We start today with some correspondence from Betty in Holland that conveys some false impressions existing abroad of the UK situation:

23-6-2001 0:39:59, "Sabine Zentis" schreef:

Dear Betty,
I enclose some reading I have collected over the last days. Mechthild just phoned, she had been to a workshop on BSE and FMD in Berlin, organised by the German Farmers Union. The outcome was : Small farms pose a risk with regard to animal diseases. (How can you dare to keep free range pigs or turn cattle out on grass ?
Smallholders and pet owners are the one's to blame for the recent development in the UK because they wasted the time of the MAFF by taking them to court over the cull of their pets, in the meantime FMDV could cause havoc throughout the UK
People talking in public about vaccination messed up everything and everyone who dares to ask questions on vaccination are worse than the virus itself etc.etc.

I am too angry to comment, but it is really time for a radical change in the attitude towards farming and animal health issues.

Regards
Sabine

Dear Sabine,

It's the same over here, European I think. Therefore it's so important to unite.

Regards, Betty

# # # #

A few short comments/corrections on the scientific front following our message on Wednesday (relevant extract repeated here):

"Had an interesting chat with Michaela on the phone today, she is an animal scientist so we asked about the sheep on a Devon farm found to have an 80% positive response on blood testing. The messages coming out from DEFRA are suggesting that these sheep could pass on infection, but could they? Don't antibodies mean that they have had exposure to the disease, responded to it and cleared the virus from their systems? Michaela confirmed that virus could be present at a very low level in the throat glands, but this was normally countered by enzymes in the saliva and that there is no scientific or statistical evidence that such carrier animals can pass on the infection to others. It is true that stress (such as shearing) can trigger or increase the prescence of such low-level virus, but again the confirmation of live virus by thoat swabs (probang test) does not mean that these animals are infective to others. This, however, is the clear implication being given out by DEFRA."

From Michaela:

Alan, Sorry, gentle correction. I never said that saliva that contains lysozyme (an enzyme) neutralises virus. Saliva has a pHof 7 so has a buffering effect in the mouth that affects bacterial species e.g. streptococcus mutans (responsible for caries). FMDV is affected by alkalines 9+. Sorry if my comments were misleading.

And from Andrew:

Whether or not persistently infected animals - ie. so called carriers - represent a real risk of infecting other animals is a hotly debated topic - what research evidence there is was of course mostly done in experimental facilities with small numbers of animals and not under field conditions. there is some circumstantial evidence that they may be in some instances from the field, but experimental results do not support the idea. I'm told that the majority of experts - but not all - now tend to the view that such animals do not pose much if any risk. The nature of the 'issue' varies somewhat between species - pigs for example never become persistently infected; and results are somewhat different depending on whether persistently infected animals had been vaccinated or not.

However it's still 'common knowledge' that persistently inf. animals - carriers - do present a risk - and the vet you quoted is one of those (the vast majority of non-specialists) who think that it is.

Essentially in the current 'regulatory environment' there is still a need for the "proof" thing to establish disease-free status as I understand it.

# # # #

Several good articles in the newspapers this weekend, our personal selection follows.

This one comes from the Independent on Sunday:

Revealed: the needless slaughter of 2m animals Top Government adviser speaks out on cull: 'Common sense totally suspended' : Ministers alerted to wrong policy in March By Robert Mendick and Geoffrey Lean 24 June 2001

Ministers ordered the slaughter of up to two million healthy animals despite being told by their leading foot and mouth expert that the killing was not needed to control the disease.

They went ahead with the cull on uninfected farms near outbreaks even though they were told by a leading scientist at the Institute of Animal Health that the scientific basis for it was "a total suspension of common sense".

Officials now admit that some of the assumptions that led to the cull may have been wrong. But at the time, says Dr Paul Kitching - then head of foot and mouth at the institute's Pirbright Laboratory, the world's leading centre for research on the disease - his objections were ignored.

His revelations are bound to reignite the row over the scale of the slaughter. Nick Brown, the then Agriculture Minister, insisted that his "every move" was "guided by the best scientific advice".

Environmentalists and some farmers' leaders have denounced the cull, but ministers retort that it has worked in bringing down the number of outbreaks.

The new Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says it has "no idea" how many animals have been killed in the "contiguous cull" stretching up to 3km from each infected farm. But it is well over one million; estimates range up to two million.

The cull began in the last week of March, after scientific models predicted that the disease would run out of control for many months, causing alarm in Downing Street.

Dr Kitching told the Independent on Sunday yesterday that he met Mr Brown and Baroness Hayman, a junior agriculture minister, on 29 March and told them that the models were wrong. In early April, he added, he told the interdepartmental science committee on the disease - headed by the Government's Chief Scientist, Professor David King - that "the contiguous cull was unnecessary on the scale at which it occurred".

Dr Kitching - now the director of the Canadian Government's Foreign Animal Disease Laboratory in Winnipeg - visited South Korea, Taiwan and Japan to study outbreaks caused by the same strain of the virus last year, and had begun experiments on it when the British epidemic was first discovered.

The research showed that the virus spread on the wind very much less than had been supposed. This was confirmed in a paper in May by Prof Alex Donaldson, the head of Pirbright, and three other scientists, which concluded that the virus was unlikely to be carried even 200 yards in sufficient quantities to infect other herds.

Dr Kitching said yesterday that Taiwan had "worked out that for this strain there was no need for a contiguous cull". Other nations, such as Japan and South Korea, had also controlled foot and mouth without resorting to it.

But Prof Roy Anderson, of Imperial College, who led one of the groups that produced the models, said that Dr Kitching's had been "a lone voice" when he put his views to the science committee. He said that the extent to which the virus was carried on the wind was "irrelevant" as epidemiologists looked at how much it spread in practice, by whatever means.

Defra admitted that "the airborne spread may prove to be less than originally thought in some of the models" but added that the effect was the same because there had been greater transmission through "poor bio-security".

Senior ministry sources believe that the Government had no option but to order the contiguous cull once faced with the models' predictions, and point out that it has succeeded in dramatically bringing down the rate of infection.

But Dr Kitching retorts: "You could argue that if you slaughtered every susceptible animal in the country you would get rid of it overnight. The argument was: how much culling do you need?"

ENDS

Alan's comment: This article and the quotations attributed to Paul Kitching provide further support for my accusation of deceit at the highest levels of government, as in my article in the Guardian on 6th June.

From the Yorkshire Post:

Disease slaughtermen getting up to #1,200 a week SLAUGHTERMEN accused of inhumane culling of animals in the foot-and-mouth outbreak are earning up to #1,200 a week working in Yorkshire, the Yorkshire Post can reveal.

As rural businesses hover on the verge of bankruptcy, some of the men working in the Settle-Clitheroe cluster, where over 200,000 sheep and 37,000 cattle have been slaughtered, have put in over 100 hours during some seven-day periods. Some worked occasional 36-hour shifts, with only short breaks, according to an industry source. They are paid #12.50 an hour and many have worked 95 to 105 hours in a week.

The revelation shocked owners of small rural businesses, some of whom have seen income fall to virtually nothing. Shop owner Norma Moore, of Grassington Chamber of Trade, said: "I had no idea how much these men were paid, it's dreadful. I don't know how they can sleep at night. In any disaster there is always somebody making a vast profit somewhere." The row came as the Government faced mounting pressure to act over "horror stories" of inhumane cullings.

Labour MP Gordon Prentice, whose Pendle constituency is one of those hard hit by the current Settle-Clitheroe cluster of cases, said he had been told about the "brutal way in which animals have been culled out" and the activities of the "so-called Liverpool team" of slaughtermen.

Margaret Beckett, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, made no direct response to the reports but said she understood the MPs concerns. Further details were also revealed yesterday about a culling incident at Niffany Farm, Skipton, where two cows escaped from slaughtermen. It emerged that a slaughterman, a trained marksman, tried to kill the animals with a .22 rifle from a vehicle, with a vet present. A spokeswoman for DEFRA, formerly MAFF, said the rifle was "of an insufficient calibre to even penetrate the skull of the animals and so they were left grazing in the field overnight," adding that the .22 rounds "only just broke the skin".

A marksman killed the animals the next day and, she said, DEFRA was satisfied the animals did not suffer.

The company which carried out the Niffany Farm cull said the vet present permitted use of the .22 rifle. It asked not to be named for fear of attacks.

ENDS

From the Telegraph by Christopher Booker:

Why there is no independent inquiry IT may not have made headlines, but last week another 93,000 animals were slaughtered as the foot and mouth epidemic continued on its way. This may be by far the worst catastrophe ever to hit Britain's countryside, inflicting damage on the nation's economy estimated at #20 billion.

However, it was hardly surprising that ministers should have confirmed last week that the Government has no plans to commission a proper independent inquiry into this disaster, similar to the one that followed the much smaller outbreak in the 1960s, because it could not dare allow such a thing.

For a start, such an inquiry would have to ask why all the conclusions reached by that 1969 report were ignored, not least because ultimate control over foot and mouth policy had been handed over to the European Union.

It would have to investigate why the British Government itself then turned the 2001 epidemic into such an obscene shambles; why running of the crisis was handed over from vets to unqualified scientists and political spin-doctors; why the Government shamelessly fiddled the figures for electoral purposes; why officials were allowed to break the law on such a colossal scale, not least in killing millions of healthy animals under the "contiguous cull" policy; why, as Roger Windsor, a council member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, recently told his colleagues, vets were routinely blackmailed by ministry officials into breaking their professional code of conduct; above all why 95 per cent of all this chaos, horror and misery could have been avoided if the Government had heeded almost every leading foot and mouth expert in the world and switched, as soon as it was clear the epidemic was out of control, from mass slaughter to mass vaccination.

It was one thing for Mr Blair to spend #27 million on the largely pointless Phillips Inquiry into BSE, with its convenient cut-off date of March 20, 1996, so that any blame would attach to the previous Tory government. It would be quite another to allow a truly independent enquiry into what has been one of the worst acts of maladministration on record, for which no one was ultimately more responsible than Mr Blair himself.

ENDS

Our comment: We will be lobbying for a public inquiry alongside many others, but it's as plain as the nose on your face that Tony Blair will not announce one unless he is absolutely forced to do so - and that looks very unlikely given his party's massive majority in parliament. from Alan & Rosie