We begin with a new slant on our favourite subject!
Deadly dust 'brought foot and mouth here'
Viruses were carried to Britain in a storm from the Sahara, claim scientists
Special report: foot and mouth disease
Robin McKie, science editor
Sunday September 9, 2001
Britain's foot and mouth epidemic may have been caused by a cloud of
infected dust blown from the Sahara, say scientists.
They have linked the outbreak - which started on 20 February - to a massive
plume of sand that swirled out of northern Africa several days earlier.
'Satellite images show a dust cloud moving over the Atlantic and reaching
Britain on 13 February,' said Dr Dale Griffin, of the US Geological Survey.
'One week later, foot and mouth broke out in the UK. Given that the
disease's incubation period is seven days, that is one heck of a
Britain's foot and mouth epidemic has cost billions of pounds, affected
2,000 farms and led to the slaughter of four million animals.
The idea that it could have been triggered by an atmospheric dust cloud from
Africa is startling. Nevertheless, scientists are becoming increasingly
worried that similar events are common and are responsible for countless
other epidemics. These include an illness now destroying Caribbean coral
reefs and asthma outbreaks in Barbados and Puerto Rico.
The problem is being taken so seriously that scientists meeting in Florida
last month urged that a major research programme on dust epidemics be
established. They have earmarked several desert danger zones, of which the
Sahara is considered most serious.
'There is no sewage treatment or proper garbage disposal there - so the soil
is heavily infected with microbes and faeces,' said Dr Eugene Shinn, another
US geological survey scientist. 'Cattle there are also infected with the
same viral strain, type O, that is causing foot and mouth in Britain.'
Storms frequently carry dust from the Sahara to Britain and their incidence
is increasing, thanks to climate changes. Rainfall there is declining and
deserts are spreading - creating more and more dust clouds that are
funnelled westward to the Caribbean by summer trade winds and northward into
Europe during winter.
For years, researchers assumed bacteria, viruses and fungi caught up in such
clouds would be sterilised by the sun's ultraviolet rays. But now scientists
have discovered they may be finding protection against radiation by clinging
to dust and sand particles.
Griffin and his team analysed several dust clouds, and found a wide range of
plant and human pathogens. Crucially, these samples were obtained by making
cultures. 'Only live organisms can generate cultures, which shows we are
dealing with microbes that are still infectious after their Atlantic
crossing,' he said.
This point was backed by Ginger Garrison, a marine ecologist in Florida,
following her analyses of samples taken during dust storms. 'We found a load
of micro-organisms hitchhiking on dust particles across the Atlantic,' she
states in the journal Nature.
One micro-organism was the fungus Aspergillus sydowii, blamed for the
current destruction of Caribbean coral reefs. 'The fungus is a (common soil)
organism that produces airborne spores and does not reproduce in sea water,
yet it is affecting coral reefs,' said Shinn. 'Our research suggests an
explanation. It is falling from the sky.'
Similarly, scientists suspect asthma outbreaks in the Caribbean and US may
also be linked to dust storms.And it is just this mechanism that may have
triggered Britain's foot and mouth epidemic, adds the US group. The virus
can survive for long periods outside a host animal - 'just the attribute to
linger in dust, and still be infectious when it reaches a new country,' said
Our comment: It makes a change from Chinese restaurants and promiscuous
troops . . . .
For anyone out there who is interested in Bonnie Durrance's film on FMD, her
"proposal" or detailed draft can be viewed at the following website:
From The Independent:
Exposed: Blair's fatal dithering over foot and mouth vaccination
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
09 September 2001
Tony Blair committed himself on three separate occasions this spring to
vaccinating animals against foot and mouth but caved in under pressure from
He made his determination clear at three secret meetings over the course of
two weeks, two in Downing Street, and one at Chequers, after he received a
report that warned starkly that the mass slaughter policy would fail. The
report gave him an astonishingly accurate forecast of how the policy would
allow the virus to persist in sheep, infecting new areas.
At the meetings, which took place at the end of March and in early April,
the Prime Minister secured unanimous agreement to vaccinate from a wide
range of principal actors, including Jim Scudamore, the Chief Vet, and the
food industry, who had both opposed it.
An immunisation plan was drawn up, only to be abandoned at the last minute
in the face of opposition from the National Farmers' Union.
These revelations - which may go some way to explaining Mr Blair's
determination not to allow a public inquiry into the Government's handling
of the epidemic - pose awkward questions over the decisiveness and
consistency of his leadership, and his susceptibility to pressure from
They will increase pressure on ministers who are again considering
announcing a limited vaccination programme, if the epidemic should take a
turn for the worse. Some 1.9 million doses of vaccine have been prepared and
are standing in readiness for the U-turn.
The Prime Minister's support for vaccination had hit a snag when food
companies and supermarkets suggested that their customers would not eat
But at the last of the three meetings, at Chequers on 12 April, including
representatives of the food industry he secured unanimous agreement - only
to back off in the following days under pressure from the NFU.
Our Comment: Well, you all knew about the above because we have covered it
before, but it seems that not everyone else has realised until now.
From the Sunday Telegraph:
Foot and mouth export ban may last another year
By David Harrison, Environment Correspondent
THE Government has admitted that the ban on meat exports, triggered by foot
and mouth, may not be lifted by next autumn and has advised sheep farmers
not to produce lambs for foreign sale.
A letter from the Intervention Board, a Government agency, tells farmers
that this year's #10-a-head compensation scheme for "light lambs" - those
under 15kg - which cannot be sold abroad will not be repeated next year
"even if there are delays in lifting the current ban on exports". It adds:
"Farmers will need to bear this in mind when considering breeding plans for
A senior Government official last night refused to set a deadline for
lifting the export ban but admitted that the letter allowed for the
possibility that lamb exports might not be able to resume next autumn.
"The decision on whether to breed is a commercial decision that farmers have
to make for themselves," he said. "We are saying that even if the ban
prevents farmers from exporting next year there will be no compensation."
Farmers' leaders last night described the Government's admission that the
foot and mouth crisis could drag on for another 12 months as "unbelievable".
A spokesman for the Farmers' Union of Wales said: "It's incredible that the
Government is telling us not to breed because they can't be sure whether the
exports ban will be lifted by next autumn.
"If the Government hasn't got any faith in its ability to stamp out the
disease how can they expect the rest of the country to have any faith in
Terry Bayliss, the chairman of Farmers First, said the Government's advice
put farmers in "a terrible dilemma". He said: "There is a huge market for
our medium and light lambs on the Continent, but we have to decide: do we
gamble and produce lambs and face losses if the ban is not lifted? Or do we
not breed and face huge losses if it is lifted"?
The farmers have only weeks to make up their minds. Rams are normally
released among the ewes in October and November to produce lambs in spring
which will then be sold in the autumn.
The board's letter offers farmers another reason not to breed sheep this
year by reminding them that standard subsidies for breeding ewes will be
paid "even if if they do not produce lambs". The Government's admission
follows a recent report by researchers at Imperial College, London, that
said the crisis could continue well into next year.
Last week the number of infected farms passed 2,000, with more the 3.8
million animals slaughtered, making it the world's worst foot and mouth
epidemic. Most experts, including the Government's own scientists, now
accept that the slaughter policy has failed to stop the disease.
The National Farmers' Union said the crisis still had "a long way to go". A
spokesman said: "We are still getting two or three cases a day. The first
thing we have to do is get that down to no cases a day. Then the flocks have
to be tested and after that we still have to win approval from the European
Union for a resumption of exports. Tony Blair said before the election that
we were in the home straight but it doesn't look that way."
Our comment: Surprise, surprise! Can it be that the NFU, and farmers
generally, are finally beginning to grasp what has been obvious to the rest
of us for a very long time? Whatever happens to the course of the epidemic,
we don't see exports starting up again without a very long and drawn-out
process of negotiation within the EU, during which the goal-posts will keep
on being moved further and further out - after all, France still
illegally refuses to accept our (BSE) beef many months after being ordered
to do so. No country is going to risk accepting UK meat for years to come -
to believe that exports will begin again as if nothing had happened, within
three months of the last case, is just cloud-cuckoo land thinking.
Jane of Farmtalking sent us this press release:
Jam and Statistics
9th September 2001
Many of us consider statistics a bit of a joke. We live in an age where
'stats' have become part of our daily life. Various polls, such as Mori and
Gallop collect information, turn them into statistics, and make predictions
for all sort of things, but can we believe them? very probably not. On the
whole we take little notice of them and if, like me, you have an aversion to
figures, they are given even less consideration!
However, perhaps they do have their place and use, but they can only be of
true value if the data fed into them is accurate, which I guess is rarely
We think MAFF/DEFRA have massaged the figures on their stats concerning the
number of Infected Premises and animals slaughtered, but without comparative
proof there is little we can do about it. As far as I know, there are no
accurate and comprehensive records of the exact number of Infected Premises,
Slaughter On Suspicion, Dangerous Contact, Contiguous and Voluntary Culls.
They are lost in a milange of quoted, imagined and estimated figures.
The horror that has unfolded for month after month, as the relentless
slaughter policy continues, is beyond belief. More and more, the call for
vaccination as an alternative, is increasing. The once small voice of a few
protesters has grown considerably until all the major broadsheets and media
programs are baying for vaccination now.
The Government continues to mutter that 'vaccination has always been an
option' and 'vaccination is under review' but still the slaughter continues.
Given the example set by Argentina, successfully vaccinating in their
current outbreak and managing to export their vaccinated meat to Europe,
including the U.K., we have to wonder why we haven't demanded to do the
We know the EU gave permission for the use of vaccination in the Spring, yet
we failed to grab this chance. The excuse trolled out was that the farmers
were against it. To be honest, I don't recall the farmers being asked, do
you? Nor do I recall their approval being sought for the slaughter policy
either for that matter!
I do remember the NFU's Ben Gill saying we didn't have a reliable vaccine
and repeating the absolute necessity that we regain FMD Free Status to
protect our exports. Although we knew the major food retailers had endorsed
vaccination in April following their meeting with the PM at Chequers on the
10th, rogue elements lobbied well and the planned vaccination scheme was
abandoned as a result.
Well, it seems the vaccine used in Argentina is working fine and they don't
have a problem with their exports either. Come to think of it, vaccination
worked very well in Holland, although the outcry against the culling of the
vaccinated livestock to hasten their return to FMD free status, still
plagues the Dutch, while their Veterinary surgeons have proposed a motion to
'strike' if ever requested to take part in such a mass slaughter again.
Which brings me back to the statistics. It is published that the cull in
Holland, as a result of their policy, amounted to 10,000 animals slaughtered
per case, as opposed to only 1,900 per case in the U.K. I can't dispute the
figures for Holland but certainly query those for the U.K. As an example,
lets look at Cumbria having suffered 883 Infected Premises to date. We know
there are 9,212 holdings registered in Cumbria of which 77% have been
totally or partially culled out. Which amounts to 7,093 farms affected.
This leads us to conclude that for each infected farm just over 7 farms lost
their stock as Contiguous or Dangerous Contact Premises to each IP. At 1900
per case, this would produce an average of 271.42 animals per holding. Which
is 1,922,203 animals and I'm told that 1M animals are buried in Great Orton.
I wonder where the rest of them are, burnt on the farms I suppose. Yet
somehow the figures don't ring quite true. Why? Well, we are told according
to the DEFRA web site's statistics that just over 3.8 million animals have
been slaughtered from just over 2000 farms infected. (Remember these figures
are only for infected farms). I make that an average of 1900 animals per
farm. I find it strange that the average in Cumbria should be so vastly
different from that for the country as a whole. Perhaps it's just that I'm
no good when it comes to figures and statistics! Nevertheless it doesn't
Even more shocking are the test results that are emerging. For instance, I
met some farmers at Penrith a few weeks ago who told me that for one
'clinically diagnosed' farm, twelve neighbouring farms lost their livestock
as contiguous or dangerous contact premises. Subsequently, all the test
results including the 'clinically diagnosed farm, were returned as
In another area, from seventy eight farms, only fifteen had positive sample
results, thirty-seven were negative and the remaining twenty-six farms were
confirmed on clinical signs but no samples were taken. Surely statistics
such as these cannot be tolerated. After all, apart from the unwarranted
distress caused to those involved, it's the tax-payer who is picking up the
tab. For some reason, normal veterinary practice has been ignored and culls
are ordered from DEFRA at Page Street, over-riding the Vets in the field,
who request test results or a second opinion, prior to making a final
Over 20% of the national flock of sheep has gone. We were told we needed to
reduce stocking levels but by how much and at what cost? More importantly,
the killing goes on, when will it stop? The hefted flocks are reduced by
considerably more than 20%. We have lost 50% of the Swaledale sheep, while
the North Country Black Faced, Hill Cheviots, Herdwicks and Rough Fell
flocks have been reduced by between 30% to 40% and rising. Not to mention
the loss of the largest flock of pedigree Wensleydales in the world, that
were Scrapie resistant.
We are told the EU is going to consider the lifting of FMD free status and a
return to the pre 1991 vaccination policy in Europe. That seems like a good
idea to me, having always been in favour of vaccination as opposed to
slaughter. However, I've heard that the President of the Royal College of
Veterinary Surgeons has cast doubt on the fact that there's enough vaccine
With a little investigation it appears he may well be right.
A trip back to the DEFRA stats for June this year, (which are by no means
complete as the figures for animals in Scotland and Wales are missing!), I
find that in England there were a total of 33,657,923, cattle, sheep, pigs
and goats. I realize some of these animals will have been slaughtered since
June, while others will have been born. Add to this figure whatever may
remain in Scotland and Wales and I imagine we're well on our way to in
excess of 50-55 million animals.
Now to check on the amount of vaccine that's available. Amazingly, there
arrived in my mail box this morning, the following information -
"The IVB holds antigen equivalent to 3.5M doses of formulated vaccine of
seven serotypes and is accessible to 6 commission members. The EUVB antigen
stocks are equivalent to 31.2 M doses of seven serotypes and are accessible
to the 15 EU member countries (and possibly other countries on a case by
case basis). National vaccine banks in member countries currently hold
antigens and formulated vaccine equivalent to 32.375 M doses of formulated
vaccine and cover 6 sero types."
O dear! It doesn't look too good does it? Add the lot together and you come
up with 67.075M doses, but they are divided by as many as seven different
sero types. If divided equally between those different types, and of course
I don't know if they are, that leaves just over 9.582M doses of Pan Asian
'O' Type vaccine and some of it is supposed to be shared with the other
It seems were in a bit of a 'sticky mess' but at least it would explain why
the Government seems so reluctant to vaccinate, after all you can't make ten
pounds of jam with half a pound of fruit!
I'm told that vaccine can be manufactured quickly and easily and I certainly
hope that's true, although the manufacturers seem reluctant to divulge any
information as to the quantities being made and for whom.
I am still convinced that vaccination is the best way to control this
epidemic in the U.K. and could also eradicate the disease worldwide.
Unfortunately, from the few enquiries I've made, unless they get a real move
on, it doesn't look as if it will be 'jam tomorrow' for the pro-vaccine
Jane Barribal - Farmtalking.com
from Alan & Rosie