was no way that vaccination was going to be approved. The issue was
dead and buried on 23 April. With the sustained opposition of MAFF, King
and the NFU having defeated Blair, there was no way he could return to the
FMD - Vaccination
Summary - Dr Richard North (revised 16 September 2001)
Right from the beginning, veterinary profession leaders were against
vaccination. President of the British Veterinary Association, David Tyson
enjoined farmers to '.stick with the control measures that worked in 1967/68.
end the UK's disease-free status. Keith Baker, past
president, said there were 50 different virus types with no cross-immunity.
If the wrong vaccine was used, animals would have no protection. Moreover,
there would be no guarantee that all animals were protected. 'Stamping out
the disease by slaughtering infected animals wins hands down, every time',
Agriculture minister Nick Brown was also opposed. To the House of Commons
on 26 February, he ruled out vaccination as 'not a viable option'. It
caused animals to become carriers and therefore helped to spread the
disease. In addition 'vaccine was known to create antibodies which could
not be differentiated from foot-and-mouth disease'. It was also expensive
and worked better in some species than in others. 'We will not use vaccines'
, he said.
He was supported by the NFU and its Scottish counterpart. 'Even if the
vaccine works, animals develop antibodies which are detectable in their
system for up to 18 months afterwards', said a Scottish NFU spokesman. 'That
would mean a loss of our country's disease-free status and a loss of our
export markets'. However, Dr Bernard Dixon, European editor of the American
Society for Microbiology said that to ignore vaccination was to create 'the
perfect scenario for a disaster'. Other experts, including Prof. Fred
Brown, of the US Centre for Animal Disease, shared his views.
As the epidemic progressed to the point where it was clearly 'spiralling out
of control', Nick Brown valiantly tried to hold the line with increasingly
unconvincing protestations that it was under control. But still he clung on
to his anti-vaccination stance, backed by Jim Scudamore, the chief
veterinary officer who, on 8 March, claimed that a 'vaccine ring' was
impossible because the outbreaks were so widespread. Yet, on 11 March,
Brown told David Frost: 'we have it (the epidemic) under control. we are
On 13 March, the European Commission sided with the UK authorities on
vaccination. It could cost the whole of Europe its 'disease-free' status
and effectively halt all exports of meat to other countries. It would have
to be applied twice yearly and was only effective in relation to the strain
of foot-and-mouth disease concerned.
However, there was evidence of a softening position signalled by The
Independent on 15 March, when outbreaks had increased to 232, after a record
daily increase of 28. Nick Brown was reported as saying: 'It may be that if
we are really pushed we may have to consider the use of vaccination for
localised disease control'. A day later, on the 16 March, with outbreaks
having reached 251, the MAFF was confronting the prospect that the epidemic
might last until Christmas and some commentators were speculating that Blair
might have to delay his election to the autumn or beyond. But there was no
more talk of vaccination. Instead, in an attempt to salvage the election,
the slaughter was to be stepped up, with a million 'contact' animals
earmarked for slaughter.
On 19 March, Brown was in Brussels at an agriculture council meeting, where
he got the backing of fellow EU ministers for his 'slaughter and burn'
policy. But he did not entirely rule out vaccination. '.we may have to
retreat to it', he said, 'but it would be a substantial retreat and a very
unattractive option for farmers, for the livestock industry and for us, the
nation state'. The next day he declared that that vaccination might be
considered, 'but only as an absolute last resort'.
But then an event occurred which was to change the landscape. On Wednesday
21 March a meeting was organised by John Krebs, Chairman of the Food
Standards Agency. It took place between MAFF officials, including Jim
Scudamore, and a team from Imperial College London, comprising Dr Neil
Ferguson and Christl Donnelly, headed by Prof. Roy Anderson. Ferguson
presented projections based on a computer model of how the epidemic would
progress if current policies were maintained, forecasting 400 outbreaks a
day by the beginning of May. Anderson's solution was not only that animals
on infected farms should be slaughtered within 24 hours - already a ministry
objective - but that the animals on 'contiguous' farms should also be
slaughtered, in 48 hours. What became known as the '21/48 hour policy' was
Scudamore was unimpressed by computer models and did not accept Ferguson's
projections. He also considered that such a widespread slaughter was beyond
his ministry's resources. But also at the meeting was Prof. David King,
appointed as the prime minister's chief scientific advisor the previous
October. Although a chemist by qualification, specialising in 'surface
materials', King was impressed and, 'aghast' at the lack of reaction from
Scudamore. He decided, in his own words, that 'I should engage myself
immediately', and 'impose myself on the situation'. Anderson, however, had
not finished. In what must have been a carefully planned strategem to
isolate Scudamore and his ministry, he then went on BBC's Newsnight to
announce that the epidemic was 'not under control' and that it would run
into May. His answer was the '21/48 hrs solution', putting it firmly in the
The next day, King wrote to Blair advising him of his view that he should
take control. From that point Scudamore - and, to an extent, Nick Brown -
were sidelined. Anderson and his team, championed by King, took over
scientific aspects of the eradication policy, forming the 'Chief Scientific
Advisor's Science Group' to dictate and execute policy.
That day, 22 March, total outbreaks stood at 430. Blair, en route to the EU
summit in Stockholm with the date of his general election very much on his
mind, flew to Cumbria to meet officials and farmers' representatives. For
the first time, was confronted with the true extent of the crisis. And,
crucially, he was made aware of a potentially devastating scenario; while
the epidemic had mainly affected sheep, thousands of cattle currently in
winter housing were due to be turned out onto pasture, where they would mix
with sheep. There was a risk of massive upsurge of outbreaks in cattle,
ratcheting up the crisis to a new intensity. Already dogged by images of
massive funeral pyres, broadcast worldwide, plans for an early general
election were looking as shaky as a cow with advanced BSE.
Completing the King putsch, Blair decided to take personal control of
efforts to control the epidemic and ordered a major upgrading of the Army's
role. Brigadier Birtwhistle, in charge of operations in Cumbria, found
himself at the centre of attention and was soon to open up a massive
disposal site for 500,000 sheep at a disused airfied at Great Orton, near
Back in London, Baroness Hayman, junior agriculture minister, gave a hint of
another possible response, suggesting that a rethink on vaccination was on
the cards. 'We have said all along that we will continue to look at
vaccination - certainly limited vaccination - in terms of part of the
disease eradication programme', she said. Any such possibility cannot have
suited Anderson, whose somewhat tarnished profession reputation was now
firmly locked into the success of his cull policy. Vaccination presented a
direct challenge - he wanted to kill the 'contiguous' animals while the
vaccination lobby not only wanted to save them but argued that vaccination
would bring the epidemic to an end quicker.
King headed the counter-attack, resorting once again to Newsnight where, in
his television debut, he uttered a 'devastating appraisal' of the epidemic,
forecasting that 30 million animals might die - half of the farm animal
population in the UK. 'If we proceed as we are at the moment', he warned,
'the epidemic is out of control'. Giving his imprimatur to his protigi,
he called Anderson's solution 'a robust piece of advice', adding his weight
to the call for 'drastic action'.
Monday 26 March saw 613 outbreaks confirmed. And there were signs of stress
building up between the MAFF and King. The Daily Telegraph reported
'Ministry and No 10 split on mass cull', with MAFF claiming it did not have
the resources to carry out the massive contiguous cull demanded by Anderson.
With no sign of the epidemic abating, and the fires continuing to burn,
Blair was still hoping his 3 May election could be salvaged. He started to
give serious thought to vaccination as a way out of the impasse, his own
'insurance policy' against the prospect of the Anderson strategy not
working. However, somewhat disingenuously, Nick Brown - who by no means
shared Blair's enthusiasm - said this would only be pursued if it was
recommended by Jim Scudamore. Tim Collins, Conservative MP for Westmorland
and Lonsdale, joined by Michael Fabricant, Member for Lichfield, called for
an immediate vaccination strategy.
On Tuesday 27 March, publishing entrepreneur Peter Kindersley, who ran an
organic farm in Berkshire, was taking a case to the High Court to argue the
case for vaccination. He had the support of Anthony Bosanquet, president of
the Country Land and Business Association, Colin Breed, Liberal Democrat
agriculture spokesman - who wanted vaccination for rare breeds - and a group
of vets, led by Ken Tyrrell, who had been involved in the 1967/8 epidemic.
Kindersley's main evidence had come from Dr Keith Sumption, a veterinary
expert from Edinburgh university. He had condemned the mass slaughter
policy as ineffective and liable to worsen infection. He recommended
emergency vaccination as the only viable means of containing the disease,
putting him directly up against the Anderson view. Sumption's report had
been passed to Prince Charles and, behind the scenes, he had been lobbying
Blair. It was that which, days previously, had set Blair on the vaccination
With the reports in his hands, Blair was now strongly favoured vaccination,
ostensibly accepting it as the best means of bringing the epidemic to a
speedy end, thus protecting his plans for an early general election. But,
actually, he was more concerned with the adverse effect more burning cattle
would have on public sentiment. Sheep was one thing - these were being
buried in the ground at Great Orton - but cattle could not be buried for
fear of BSE. The prospect of the countryside lit with stinking pyres was
Signalling his support for vaccination, he declared: 'A few days ago even,
this was generally regarded as anathema to very large parts of the farming
community, .things that may have seemed utterly unpalatable a short time ago
have to be on the agenda. There are difficult questions there and a lot of
divided opinions .it is fair to say that it is more of a live issue than it
was a few days ago'.
It was more than 'a live issue'. Blair had already issued instructions to
MAFF to apply to the EU for permission to vaccinate. However, there had not
been enough doses for widespread vaccination - and in any event such an
option was opposed by the EU Commisison - so it was decided to concentrate
on cattle in the two major 'hotspots' - Devon and Cumbria. Although that
would have a very limited effect on the course of the epidemic, it would at
least minimise the number of pyres. Nick Brown announced the plan to the
House of Commons, but his reluctance was evident. Vaccination was 'no easy
option', he said, adding that it would delay a full return to the export of
cattle and meat. Then, in a canard that was to be oft-repeated, he told the
House that vaccinated animals would probably have to be slaughtered later.
Ben Gill, in his own words was 'stunned'. 'I was actually speechless', he
later recalled. 'What's happened. only a few days ago this wasn't an option'
. His earlier confidence had come from links forged with Anderson. Now,
the position no longer seemed secure.
Despite Gill's opposition, on the Wednesday, an application was made to the
Standing Veterinary Committee to vaccinate cattle in Cumbria and Devon,
estimated at 180,000. Such was the urgency, the SVC was asked to make a
'contingent decision' which would allow the UK to start immediately without
waiting for formal approval from the EU Commission (which was to follow on
30 March). But, in what amounted to a 'poison pill', MAFF also asked for
onerous and complicated conditions to apply to vaccinated animals and the
products derived from them. In due course, these conditions - hyped up by
the NFU - would fuel the concerns of livestock farmers that vaccination
would impose unacceptable financial penalties. However, there was no
requirement to slaughter vaccinated animals; on the contrary, their
slaughter was prohibited.
Gill and other farming representatives immediately moved in to neutralise
this development. They sought a meeting with Blair when, during ninety
minutes with him on Thursday 29 March, Gill conveyed the thrust of the
Anderson team analyses, claiming that there were 'positive signs' that the
mass slaughter was working. Jim Walker told Blair that vaccination would be
'an admission of defeat'. Also present was Dr Chris Bostock, head of the
Animal Health Institute at Pirbright. Those present were surprised to see
Blair fiercely interrogating Bostock as to how he could justify his claims
that vaccination might infect rather than protect animals. The answers,
apparently, were less than convincing.
Neverthless, faced with the combined onslaught from the 'farmers' leaders',
Blair put off a decision until the Monday, allowing time to assess whether
the Anderson strategy would work. In the High Court, Kindersley was given
leave to appeal against the government's slaughter policy.
On Friday 30 March, sixty-four outbreaks were confirmed - the highest total
for a single day of the epidemic. Blair visited Scotland but gave no
obvious indication of favouring vaccination. 'It is important to realise we
are obliged to consider all the options, all the points put to us', he said.
Jim Walker, president of the NFU of Scotland, said farmers in Scotland 'had
no wish to see the introduction of a vaccination programme' and said that
the policy of slaughter was beginning to work. Steve Heaton, for the NFU in
Cumbria, wighed in with the observation that Cumbrian farmers were 'deeply
hostile' to vaccination. The cattle would eventually have to be
slaughtered, he said.
At Blair's request, on the Monday 2 April, Patrick Holden of the Soil
Association, Fiona Reynolds, director general of the National Trust,
Lawrence Woodward, director of Elm Farm Research centre and Gareth Davies, a
former EU veterinary advisor, met in Downing Street to discuss Keith
Sumption's report. Blair was highly supportive. But Nick Brown - out of
the loop - in Cumbria meeting MAFF officials and the army, said a firm
policy had yet to be finalised: 'The issue is still under review. The
arguments are not all one way. There are a range of strategies under
Thus, while Blair 'dithered', in the words of opposition agriculture
spokesman, Tim Yeo, no decision on vaccination was forthcoming. But one
decision was made. To the media outside Downing Street, Blair announced
that the election would be delayed until 7 June. Brown - still opposed to
vaccination - took the opportunity afforded by the delayed vaccination
decision to meet Gill, whom he counted as 'friend', at a restaurant in
Millbank. Between them they worked out a strategy which would enable
farmers to keep their cattle indoors for an extended period, thus avoiding
vaccination while protecting the cattle from infection and keeping buring
cattle off the front pages. Gill was asked to conduct a 'straw poll' of
farmers to gauge reaction. '.like an echo coming back', he said later,
'.there was no hesitation. It was keep them indoors'.
An urgent call was sent out to feed merchants to obtain 'significant
quantities of silage' for delivery to farmers in Cumbria, with an appeal to
farmers outside infected areas to sell any spare silage they had.
On Wednesday 4 April, total outbreaks passed the 1,000-mark, ending up at
1,020. Despite his own personal preference for vaccination, Blair was now
dealing not only with opposition from the farming community Blair again bowed to pressure and
told the House of Commons that he would delay a decision yet again, allowing
more time to see if slaughtering affected animals within 24 hours of
reported infection would bring the epidemic under control.
Prof. King enthusiastically supported the delay, claiming that control
measures were beginning to bite and the epidemic 'could be significantly
stifled by June'. Maintaining a publicly neutral stance on vaccination, he
stated that he felt that the new figures 'made the use of vaccines less
likely'. Anderson and his team had also been in overdrive, behind the
scenes. Using their new-found authority as King's 'Science Group' to afford
them access, they had rushed out a report to Blair declaiming vaccination.
Even if all 60 million farm animals in the UK were vaccinated, they claimed,
the virus would simply be masked, ready to strike again at farms within
weeks or months.
Fred Brown, meanwhile, continued his support for a programme and Dr Robert
Dourmashkin, of the Academic Virology Section at St Barts and Royal London
Medical School, had written to Tony Blair urging him to authorise
On 5 April, however, King's 'Chief Scientists Group' felt confident enough
of their position to give the NFU 'a clear steer against any use of
vaccination to control the current outbreak'. But the vaccination lobby was
fighting back. The next day, with outbreaks at 1,062, a coalition of group,
led by the Soil Association and including the National Trust, the RSPB and
the Wildlife Trusts, called on Blair to authorise voluntary, targeted
vaccination as a complement to mass culling.
By Monday 9 April, confirmed outbreaks had reached 1,137 but Nick Brown
claimed that the rate of outbreaks was diminishing and the few days were
likely to form a 'clear trend' for how the epidemic would progress. He said
he had listened to those farmers calling for vaccination but, echoing
Anderson's paper, warned that it could mean the outbreak lasted longer.
Behind the scenes, however, teams of vaccinators were being recruited and
And Blair was still determined to pursue vaccination. On 12th April he held
the last of three 'secret' meetings, this one at Chequers, where - with the
help of Chris Haskins of Northern Foods - he secured unanimous agreement
from representatives of the food industry that vaccination was the way
forward. But Ben Gill still held out. In what was clearly a stalling
tactic, he arranged for the NFU to issue a series of 52 questions directed
at MAFF, asking for clarification of technical and other points.
In an attempt to sideline the NFU, Blair delegated Nick Brown to persuade
the farming community directly. He in turn asked David Maclean MP to
consult with cattle farmers and vets in Cumbria. Owners of pedigree herds
were opposed but, contrary to expectations, the majority were in favour.
But there would have to be a guarantee that vaccinated animals would not be
slaughtered and an assurance that retailers would accept beef and milk from
vaccinated animals. English Nature, the government's own conservation
advisers, weighed into the debate, urging vaccination to protect rare breeds
Nick Brown kept up appearances. Overtly supporting vaccination, but he had
the credibility of his ministry to maintain. Vaccination meant the
unthinkable. defeat, an admission of failure. His advocacy was lukewarm.
'The strategy that I am attracted to is one which uses vaccination in order
to ensure that the high value animals, the cattle, live on rather than are
culled out', he said. But he could not resist adding that vaccination was
not a way of defeating the disease once it had occurred.
Nevertheless, by Thursday 13 April, with the number of animals awaiting
slaughter or burial approaching the million mark and rising, it appeared
that MAFF was 'losing the race' to destroy livestock within the time
ordained by Anderson. Brown told BBC's World at One that the weight of
numbers made it difficult to deal with the animals at risk on neighbouring
farms within the 48 hours recommended. Never had Anderson's strategy looked
more fragile. So perilous was the situation that Blair piled on the
pressure for Brown to announce a limited vaccination programme. Journalists
were briefed that this could be expected as early as the Tuesday.
Brown played for time. On Sunday 15 April, he told BBC 1's Countryfile
'Vaccination would only work as a strategy if everyone involved was
committed to making it work', acknowledging that there were objections from
the NFU. 'I need to explore these objections very carefully indeed. before
the government moves to such a strategy', he said. And while the NFU
appeared to be shifting its position slightly, with Peter Rudman, the NFU's
veterinary and public health adviser, saying of vaccination: 'It's designed
to buy time. It needs to be very carefully managed', Gill's position had not
changed in the slightest.
Speculation continued the following day, Monday 16 April, with The Daily
Telegraph reporting that Blair was 'poised for selective vaccination',
calling it 'another embarrassing U-turn'. But it was not a U-turn. Blair
had been constant in his ambition but had been blocked from realising it.
So, instead of vaccination, he was offering vacillation.
At Blair's request, Prof. King went to Cumbria with the instruction to
persuade farmers about vaccination. Completely opposed to the concept, he
only went through the motions. Predictably, made little progress. Steve
Heaton, regional NFU director, who had heard him speak, said: 'We are very,
very nervous about it. The question as to why vaccination was not considered
earlier had still not been 'satisfactorily answered'. James Black, chairman
of the National Pig Association, said a vaccination policy would cause
'irreparable damage' to the country's reputation as a supplier of healthy
Jim Walker blamed splits in the Cabinet for vaccination returning to the
agenda. He said: 'It's obvious that Nick Brown is saying something he doesn't
believe in because he has always said that vaccination
wasn't the answer.
But this isn't about foot-and-mouth control, it's about politics working at
its absolute worst. We've got a group in the Cabinet led by Michael Meacher
and Elliot Morley who are pushing for it'. He said that vaccination would
be a betrayal of all those that had already sacrificed stock to try and halt
the spread of the disease. It will not get the universal support it
requires. And its introduction will cause the breakdown of the slaughter
Tuesday 17 April brought no resolution. Gill went to Chequers to meet Blair
but emerged with his hostility unabated. 'At the moment there is too little
reliable information available to enable farmers to make an informed
decision' he said. Later, he was to say: 'If you listen to the world
scientific leaders, they will tell you it is much better to keep animals
inside for another month. We are told that science is rigid... and suddenly
in ten days a certain part of the science seems to have been turned on its
head'. So confident of its case was the NFU that it was able to brief the
media that 'the government could be stopped in its tracks' as ministers had
so far failed to deliver satisfactory answers to its written questions.
Haworth now openly called in aid Anderson's work, adding: 'We have not got a
closed mind but we need to see a compelling reason to change policy', he
said, adding: 'It would be unfortunate to have a policy which was not backed
by the union'.
And to support the NFU, in what was clearly a coordinated campaign, the
British Meat Federation warned that inoculating cattle would effectively
halt both sheep and pig meat export markets - worth a combined #340 million
a year - for 'at least another 12 to 18 months' on top of the current ban.
'If we start inoculating cattle in Cumbria and Devon, we would effectively
lose any chance of having restrictions lifted in controlled zones elsewhere'
. The Consumers' Association said that, if vaccination was adopted, any
meat or dairy products derived from inoculated animals should be rigorously
checked by the Food Standards Agency.
Wednesday 18 April saw outbreaks reach 1,377 but the increase of 11 on the
previous day had been one of the lowest daily totals since the epidemic had
started. Emboldened, Haworth - about to enter the third day of talks with
King - predicted ministers would be persuaded to abandon vaccination.
'There will be much more of a meeting of minds and the government will not
be saying it is necessary to go right on to vaccination. There was a useful
discussion yesterday and we and the veterinary representatives, who also
oppose it, raised a number of issues which they (the government scientists)
had not necessarily considered nor had the answers to'.
He added: 'We have come to a better understanding of the situation but I
really do not think that at the end of this the government will be in a
position to recommend vaccination. I do not think the government is even
going to be that desperate to go ahead with it because there is a need to
pursue other issues'. Emerging from the talks, Ben Gill said there were
still 'major issues' of disagreement. It could be a fortnight before the
NFU was ready to offer its support for vaccination.
Adding to the orchestrated opposition were ten Scottish organisations, who
had written to Tony Blair. They including the NFU of Scotland and Quality
Meat Scotland, saying vaccination would 'undermine the Government's whole
strategy for dealing with the disease. The Food and Drink Federation also
weighed by saying that it did not want meat from inoculated animals to enter
the food chain. However, Sir John Krebs, chairman of the Food Standards
Agency, said he had advised MAFF that meat and dairy products from
vaccinated livestock could safely enter the food chain with no harmful
effect on humans. Nestle, which bought much of the milk produced in Cumbria
for export as milk powder, pledged its support to local farmers, but said
that a vaccination policy would almost certainly harm the company.
The next morning, on Thursday 19 April, from what can only have been the
result of an inspired leak - almost certainly emanating from the Anderson
camp - The Daily Telegraph reported that King and Scudamore were backing
vaccination against 'expert' advice. David Brown, writing the piece,
claimed access to the Anderson team's 'confidential' report, delivered to
Blair a fortnight earlier, which had comprehensively rubbished the idea of
King, still overtly arguing the case for vaccination, then undermined his
own declared case by declaring that the epidemic was 'fully under control'
after the daily outbreak average had dropped to 27 by the Sunday compared
with 43 a fortnight previously. He said the policy of mass culling infected
animals as well as healthy livestock had been successful. Carefully
distancing himself from the vaccination lobby, he then 'revealed' that his
advice to Blair had been that vaccination should only go ahead if it did not
interfere with the current cull policy and if the farming community wanted
to do it. Knowing that the NFU was still viscerally against the programme,
effectively he was saying that vaccination should not go ahead.
Scottish shadow rural development minister Fergus Ewing then backed calls
from the heads of ten Scottish organisations - including the NFU and the
Scottish Organic Products Association - opposing the vaccinating of
livestock. Mr Ewing, of the Scottish National Party, said: 'Blair's
vacillation over vaccination south of the border is not helping the
situation in Scotland and is creating a great deal of confusion. Scotland
needs clarity in these matters and we need it now, before any vaccination
policy being introduced in England'.
The 'government' meanwhile had decided to appeal over the heads of the NFU
and other farming representatives directly to farmers to support
vaccination. An advert in the Farmers' Weekly magazine spelt out the
thinking behind its plans. But it made it clear that the government was not
planning to push the policy through against opposition from farmers. It
stated: 'Farmers' leaders have asked for a delay in the process so the
science can be explored and the implications for consumers and trade better
understood. We understand their position and we will be listening carefully
to the views of farming and food industry representatives over the coming
days before deciding how to proceed'.
MAFF also published on its website answers to the NFU's list of questions.
Most of the questions had been childishly simple, which the NFU should have
had no difficulty answering from its own resources, essentially confirming
that they had been asked as a delaying tactic.
However, beyond these, the NFU wanted to know whether, if products from
vaccinated animals were not marketable, the government would act as the
purchaser of last resort. It wanted to know whether owners of breeding
stock would get compensation for losses if vaccinated animals could not
leave the vaccinated zone and whether farmers in general would receive
compensation for lower prices because of lower prices or a loss of their
markets. These were key questions which struck at the heart of the economic
arguments. Many farmers felt they would be better off if they had their
animals slaughtered and, with rumours that supermarkets and food processors
would be reluctant to take their products - or, as captive sellers, they
would be held to ransom.
In all respects, the MAFF answers to these questions were unhelpful,
suggesting that there were no mechanisms for providing support or
compensation 'beyond the existing market support provisions under certain
CAP market organisations'. Yet it cannot have been the case that MAFF had
been unaware of Council Decision 90/434/EEC which allowed for the
compensation of farmers 'as a result of restrictions imposed on the
marketing of livestock as a result of the reintroduction of emergency
vaccination'. Failure to provide this information effectively sabotaged any
attempt to get consent from livestock owners.
On the 20 April, Valerie Elliott of The Times reported that 'ministers' had
bowed to pressure from Ben Gill and delayed for at least a week the decision
to vaccinate. This move, she wrote, had been 'influenced' by the latest
epidemiological forecasts from King.
The Soil Association returned to the fray, accusing the NFU of letting down
its members by opposing vaccination, putting economic considerations ahead
of disease control. A spokeswoman said: 'Some farmers believe retailers
will not take their products (after vaccination) and we think that kind of
attitude, which appears to have come from the NFU, is a bit blinkered.
Cynically, we believe this could be because there is already a good
compensation package on offer for farmers who lose animals... Many organic
farmers feel penalised by the current policy of slaughtering animals. It
takes them much longer to re-establish their livestock herds with organic
status but they receive no extra help'.
The NFU responded with a 'position statement' saying that it could not take
a 'leap into the dark' by agreeing to vaccination 'without a much clearer
understanding of the outcome and consequences of such a momentous step'. On
television, Gill assiduously promoted the myth that vaccinated animals would
have to be slaughtered. He described them as 'the walking dead'.
By the next day, the backlash was gathering pace. Now a 'coalition' of
groups and charities accused the NFU of 'letting down' its members. Its
leaders, headed by Jonathan Dimbleby - president of the Soil Association -
said the NFU's stance contradicted the thoughts of many farmers who wanted
to preserve herds through vaccination. The Soil Association was joined by
Friends of the Earth, the National Trust and the RSPB.
By Monday 23 April, all the signs were that an announcement on vaccination
was imminent. The UK had applied for and had been granted provisional
approval from the SVC to extend cattle vaccination to Cornwall, Somerset and
Dorset, vaccine doses were in place and the staff was ready. Nick Brown was
due to give evidence to the House of Commons Agriculture Committee and there
was every expectation that he would give the programme the green light.
But it was not to be. Out of the blue, Brown executed an elaborate ambush,
telling the committee that, in the light of persistent resistance from
farmers and industry, coupled with growing optimism that the slaughter
policy was containing the disease, 'the case for vaccination recedes as the
number of daily cases declines'. He remained adamant that 'this
exceptionally serious outbreak' was being brought under control as a result
of the slaughter policy. Then, as part of a carefully orchestrated 'double
act', King appeared before the committee on the Wednesday to display charts
to incredulous MPs which indicated that the epidemic would come skidding to
a halt on 7 June - Blair's projected election day.
With that, vaccination was completely off the agenda. Blair had been
frustrated. The unholy triumvirate of the NFU, the King/Anderson group and
Nick Brown had won the day. Brown was unrepentant. He remained convinced
that vaccination was 'a step too far'. And, while his defiance of Blair was
later to cost him his job, and the day of reckoning has yet to come for the
NFU, King and Anderson have gone on to greater glories.
In the meantime, the cattle problem remained. There was a limit to how long
they could be kept indoors and if they could not be vaccinated, something
else had to be done. With clinical detachment, a solution was found - the
sheep had to go.
In projecting what was bound to be a highly contentious policy, however,
help was at hand, on Wednesday 25 April, in the unlikely form of 'Phoenix',
the 'milky white heifer calf' which had been found alive after five days
under a pile of carcases. In the ensuing uproar, Blair was able to announce
a 'major relaxation' of the slaughter policy, later redefined by Brown as a
'refinement'. It was neither. Valerie Elliot of The Times described it a
'no more than a cosmetic exercise to charm cattle farmers'. But it was
actually a smokescreen. Under the guise of an apparently more restrained
policy of sparing animals - which only applied to cattle - an orgy of
slaughter was launched, aimed at clearing the hills of sheep, making the
land safe for cattle to graze.
By Thursday 3 May, Blair was fiercely defending 'his' policy of mass
slaughter, rather than limited vaccination. 'Because of this huge effort we
are getting the disease under control', he said. 'We have now all but
completely cleared the backlog of animals waiting to be slaughtered, as well
as the backlog waiting to be disposed. But it is not over yet. We cannot
be complacent and it is essential we remain fully vigilant'. This
'cautiously upbeat assessment' was seen in Whitehall as clearing the way for
the general election. Blair had got his way, but the sheep paid the price.