Firstly a message from Diana:
I caught a news item today on R4, in which some Defra official
or other was actually bragging about the size of the cull they are
conducting in Northumberland. Apparently it was a good thing which mean't
they were on top of the situation. We seem to have lost all sense of reason
here - surely any cull is a bad thing, only to be used as a last resort. He
should have been ashamed to admit the scale of the slaughter. Or perhaps I'm
missing a point here. If Defra's aim is to wipe out animals, not FMD, then I
suppose he HAS got something to shout about, especially when you stop to
add-up the blood-money he's collecting along the way. It seems that these
people don't even bother to hide their true intentions any more. But then,
why should they? Most of the population don't care, and those that do, don't
On a last note, can you tell Lawrence how sorry
I am to hear of his
encounter with the ramblers. I hope they haven't brought any infection to
his flock. This is another point that our government has failed to grasp -
ramblers are not just holidaymakers out for a stroll. They are often serious
walkers, who have walked in Cumbria, Northumberland and the Brecons, before
coming down to us. I really don't think anyone in Defra has taken this on
board. Or perhaps they have, and this is just another way of actively
encouraging the spread of infection. Or am I being a cynic again?
This from Richard North regarding Elisa tests and deer:
As regards Elisa, the precise details are not my specialist subject but I
understand that the antibody proteins produced by different species are very
specific. The Elisa test works by attaching dye to an antigen proteins, a
suspension of which which are spread over the fixed substrate (plasma)
the test animal. If the antibody is there, the antigen protein 'lock' on
it. when the sample plate is then washed, to remove the excess, the
dye-linked antigen proteins produce a visible colour change, by which the
sample is assessed. The degree of 'locking' depends on the precise nature
the antibody-antigen proteins and a specific elisa must be produced for each
major species. There is partial attachment with deer blood, but the test
so insensitive that I am informed that blood should be obtained from the
heart, before the deer is killed. This, as you can imagine, is quite
difficult, expecially if the deer is already dead when it has been found, as
is most often the case. To my certain knowledge, samples from freshly-dead
deer have been rejected by MAFF/DEFRA because they had been dead too long.
PS - watch for the DAILY MAIL tomorrow.
Our comment: Just a reminder of the DEFRA quote from yesterday's message
"We can categorically state that there is no risk from deer" -
interesting in the light of Richard's information, which indicates that
DEFRA cannot accurately know the disease status of deer without a dedicated
More on deer tomorrow!
Robert sent us the following message, with a joke from daughter Amy!:
New outbreak in Northumberland.
I note that in the outbreak you report tonight that 874 cattle and 2457
sheep are to be culled. Is this total from the 3 farms concerned?
Have all the other cases in this area involved cattle, i.e. no farms
infected with just sheep.
If so, this points to your milk tanker theory with air being expelled.
Other than this, I do not see how vehicles can carry the disease. Has it
even been located on wheels? Infection via the tyres must be unlikely. The
tyre's contact area must be cleaned off on the road. And how many vehicles
go into a field with infected stock and then move on to the occupied
of an neighbouring farm? Or drive over an area where infected animals have
just passed, then move on to the neighbouring farm where animals will pass
by where their wheels have gone within a an hour or so? I suppose the
disease could attach in mud to the underside of a vehicle, but the vehicle
would again have to follow the same sequence from one farm to another in
order to spread the disease.
I could use much the same argument for human carriers. Do farmers walk in
their own fields and then within hours walk in an occupied neighbour's
field? The risk here surely is from walkers, who do just that.
I think that DEFRA are being a bit dim about the risk from wildlife. Surely
deer do not have to catch the disease. Having walked in it, they can just
walk it on. As can birds (only they fly). And I have seen no mention of
flies. They surely land on eyes, wounds, mouths, bums etc!
Joke from Amy. What do you call a fly with no wings?
Our comment: Robert has raised a valid point here - that wildlife such as
deer do not actually need to contract the disease to spread it. There has
been some very limited work on insect vectors (reported in previous
messages) but deer are certainly not disinfecting themselves between farms .
. . . . .
Peter Mundy of the Soil Association has sent in the following items for
Organic Farming: # 71
Section: Comment (1 page)
Author: External policy document
TITLE(S): Pride before logic
STANDFIRST: Is there a better way to combat foot and mouth disease? Phil
Government support for the strategy of culling infected farms, contiguous
holdings - and now livestock showing antibodies - is illogical and outdated.
It is now 6 months since the first case, yet new outbreaks are still
appearing: so-called 'hot spots' in Wales and Yorkshire continue to cause
misery and loss of livestock. The on-going biosecurity requirements and
extensive restrictions on movements - and day-to-day life - prolong the
difficulties for all in the rural community. Blood testing, which is
required under current policy before areas can be declared free of foot and
mouth disease (FMD) is likely to lead to more widespread culling, such as
the hefted flocks in the Brecon Beacons. The direct and indirect costs of
FMD for the UK are staggering.
Experts predict that the disease could spread more rapidly if it is not
'under control' by the autumn. The impact of this would be unthinkable:
footpaths may be closed again; renewed damage would occur to British
tourism; and we could lose remaining hefted flocks, including some rare or
threatened breeds of particular importance to systems of land management.
This would be despite a revision to the contiguous culling policy introduced
by the government in April which was specifically designed to safeguard
them. If the disease continues to rear its head just how far would culling
have to be extended before the virus is 'eradicated' under the government's
What is the alternative?
The Soil Association is calling for the immediate adoption of an integrated
slaughter and vaccination strategy. Vaccination would be offered as a
voluntary alternative to slaughter for both cattle and sheep in infected
areas instead of a contiguous cull, or where antibodies are present but no
clinical symptoms are exhibited (such as in the Brecon Beacons) or to
protect 'special' herds and flocks.
The government's current position is that vaccination will be considered
'next time' and that during this outbreak we should achieve our objective of
eradication using the slaughter strategy: this 'we've started so we'll
finish' approach seems to be based more on pride than rationality, a
peculiarly British stance to the outbreak.
The policy climate in Europe towards vaccination has changed dramatically
during the outbreak and it is now conceivable that agreement could be
reached to change the current EU 'non-vaccination' policy. An experiment in
the use of vaccination as part of the ongoing control strategy would be
perceived as a strength - not a weakness - by the public. And it would
certainly be an extremely useful exercise for other European countries in
How would it work?
Vaccination would not be permitted in designated uninfected 'regions':
could be zoned, allowing the re-establishment of export markets. Any delays
to exports are likely to be more than compensated for by other savings - to
the treasury at least - and the resumption of exports may actually be
speeded up in uninfected regions or zones. Payments to farmers for livestock
to be vaccinated, as well as to neighbouring units where restocking may be
slightly delayed, could be met from within the savings as a result of not
resuming widespread culling.
All vaccinated stock would be recorded and registered on central database
until slaughter. The NCC (see box) has openly said that vaccinated livestock
products should be allowed to be sold for human consumption and in our view
it would be unnecessary to slaughter vaccinated breeding animals. Areas
where vaccination could be introduced would be designated by the Department
for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) but could include areas
such as the Brecon Beacons, Cumbria and North Yorkshire. The aim of the new
strategy would be to create a barrier of immune animals to prevent further
Informing the public
Products from vaccinated animals would enter the food chain as normal.
Sensible, honest and clear communication with the public must be a priority:
the fact that we are almost certainly importing FMD-vaccinated animal
products without labelling (see box) makes the stance against vaccination
almost farcical. We all know that the majority of meats, milk and eggs
consumed in the UK will have come from animals that have been vaccinated
against some disease at some point in its life.
Critics of vaccination say that it does not deal with the problem of
'carrier' status, where individual animals may harbour live virus after
having recovered - potentially re-infecting other stock. The rebuttal to
this criticism is that if all other animals on the holding and surrounding
holdings are vaccinated (or culled if the farmers refuse to participate in
the programme) the disease has no capacity to spread since all the animals
will have antibodies and not be vulnerable. It should be pointed out that
the 'carrier status' theory of re-infection is hypothetical and is not
proven to be a likely mechanism for disease transmission.
This policy should be regarded as an extension of the existing measures
designed to safeguard hefted flocks and rare breeds: the current approach
threatens to render these measures meaningless as test results come through,
and culling resumes.
Organic Farming: # 71
Section: Foot and Mouth - DEFRA imports
Author: External policy document
TITLE: Are we already importing FMD vaccinated meat?
In August the Soil Association wrote to the Department for the Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) with the following questions. Here is DEFRA's
How much [FMD] vaccinated meat is imported annually?
We cannot say. European Community import rules permit imports of meat from
countries where vaccination is practised, subject to additional assurances
regarding the disease status of the area. In some cases vaccination may be
confined to specific regions. Imports must be accompanied by veterinary
certification to guarantee that the meat accords with EU requirements but
the certificate does not have to state whether the meat came from animals in
a region where vaccination takes place.
Is it marked as vaccinated?
There is no requirement for imported meat from vaccinated animals to be
specifically identified as such. It seems unlikely therefore that meat
imported from vaccinating countries would be so marked. Following from that
it would not be possible to mark any product sold to the final consumer as
coming from vaccinated animals.
We have no detailed information about when or where meat imported from
vaccinating countries is on sale
Organic Farming: # 71
Section: Foot and Mouth - NCC
Author: External policy document
TITLE: FMD vaccinated stock can enter the food chain
STANDFIRST: Food from FMD vaccinated beasts need not be labelled, according
to the National Consumer Council
In a statement from Deirdre Hutton, chairman, the National Consumer Council
(NCC) said that consumers had made the link between animal feeding
practices, health and welfare and food safety and they are inevitably
"But consumers are wrong if they think that foot and mouth carries the
risks as BSE or genetic modification" the statement said. "It is our
that consumers need to be reassured of this before they will accept meat or
other food from livestock that has been vaccinated."
The statement noted that the chairman of the Food Standards Agency, Sir John
Krebs, had already said that there is no health risk from eating meat and
dairy products from animals that have been vaccinated. "Indeed animals are
already vaccinated against a variety of things, all of which we accept
without question and some of the beef we import is undoubtedly from animals
that have been vaccinated" the NCC statement continued. "Nor do we
that such food needs to be labelled to distinguish it from other produce."
"We have a unique opportunity to reform our agriculture for the benefit of
society as a whole. The next government must seize that opportunity" it
In a discussion on Farming Today (20 April 2001), Professor David King,
Government Chief Scientist, was adamant that the risk of infection from
FMD-vaccinated livestock to other livestock is negligible...
"I think that there is an enormous amount of misunderstanding on this very
issue. The cattle that are vaccinated with this high-potency vaccine that is
available... would be able to face a very severe challenge of foot and mouth
virus and therefore would not pick up the disease. They would develop
antibodies which would stop the virus going into their bodies and virus
would not go into their milk. The virus is carried but only in the region of
the throat of the animal and the rate of infection of other animals from an
animal which is carrying it in this way is very, very low indeed. There are
one or two reported cases around the world and there's been a very long
history of foot and mouth disease - one or two cases only where disease has
been shown to have been spread from such carriers.
I am really going to stress here. that because of the anti-body development
in the body of the cow the virus can never build up to a significant enough
level to amount to a significant challenge to another animal and so the
possibility of passing the disease on to another animal is extremely low. If
I was in other words a betting person I would say that from the vaccinated
cattle, if we vaccinated all the living cattle in Cumbrian barns today, from
those vaccinated cattle would bet that we would not spread the disease at
The attachment to tonight's message contains a broadside from Bryn to Ben
Gill - it's definitely a "PG" rating, this one!
From The Times:
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 01 2001
Six weeks to halt foot-and-mouth
BY VALERIE ELLIOTT, COUNTRYSIDE EDITOR
MINISTERS have set themselves a six-week deadline to eradicate
foot-and-mouth disease from the country or authorise a limited vaccination
programme for cattle in the remaining worst-hit areas.
Farmers' leaders and vets accept that an alternative control strategy to
contain the disease will be inevitable if it persists through the autumn.
The Times has learnt that one of the main alternatives is for a limited
programme of cattle vaccination in the infected and high-risk areas of
Cumbria, Northumberland and possibly North Yorkshire.
Ministers are determined that the virus must not flare up again during the
winter and threaten rural businesses, particularly the tourist trade, for
the next holiday season. There is particular concern because the virus
flourishes in cold, wintry weather.
A senior government source said yesterday: "It is clear that commercial
reasons are likely to influence an alternative policy of vaccination, though
whether it's vaccinate to live or vaccinate to kill, will have to be open to
For the moment, with the number of cases edging towards 2,000, the
Government's priority is to take advantage of the warmer spell to bear down
on the disease, and vaccination will not be used.
The renewed urgency was signalled yesterday when government vets turned to
the Army for help to contain the growing cluster around Hexham,
Farmers in the county were said to be shocked after the disease leapfrogged
the rigid boundaries set up by the Government to control spread of the
disease, and a case was confirmed at Greyside, Fourstones, near Hexham. The
strict surveillance zone was expected to be extended as far as Hadrian's
Wall this weekend.
There were two new cases yesterday, bringing the total in a week to 16.
There were also two new cases yesterday in Cumbria, bringing the total
nationwide to 1,994.
About 20 soldiers from the Northumbrian Royal Artillery Volunteer Regiment
are to be drafted into the Hexham area today to organise the cull and
disposal of farm animals. An extra 15 vets have also moved into the area,
and another 20 are on standby. Extra slaughtermen are also being sent from
Lord Whitty, the Food and Farming Minister, said last night that there would
be more cases in the area because the disease had been present for two to
three weeks. "That does indicate there probably has been a significant
spread already within the valley." He appealed to farmers and others
travelling to farms to follow the strictest disinfecting procedures.
Farmers' leaders are expecting that options for a limited vaccination scheme
will be drawn up within weeks. Ministers have said that recovery for the
worst-hit areas might depend on the use of vaccination to restore business
The Prince of Wales has donated a watercolour of Balmoral to an art
exhibition to raise money for farmers whose livelihood has been affected by
the foot-and-mouth epidemic.
And from Warmwell:
Mud slinging on the foot and mouth front line
UNTIL now, one of the biggest challenges for journalists covering foot and
mouth has been to keep a crisis entering its eighth month high on the news
But, increasingly, they are finding themselves faced with a new test: the
hostility of the men from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs responsible for containing the disease.
The latest outbreak around Allendale, in Northumberland, has brought with it
a spate of reports about Defra officials obstructing journalists as they
attempt to cover the story.
Earlier this week, Charlie Hedley, a photographer with the Newcastle-based
North News, was trying to take pictures at a newly disinfected farm when
Defra officials stopped him and made him strip off his clothes - even though
he was on a public road at the time.
They then sprayed his car and discarded clothes with disinfectant, ruining
several items. After a protracted stand-off, Hedley relented and left. But a
mile down the road, he was pulled over by the police and questioned for more
than half an hour.
"I've got no doubt the police were tipped off by the Defra officials and
given details of my car," he said.
Ian Dovaston, North-East correspondent for Sky News, found his attempts to
film from a public road similarly thwarted by Defra officials who - after
threatening him and his crew with trespass for straying on to "Defra
territory" - stood in front of the camera to block it.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a BBC crew filming a cull near Allendale was
reportedly made to strip in public and the crew's equipment was sprayed with
disinfectant - ruining it.
Nor is it simply journalists in remote rural areas who are encountering an
increasingly antagonistic Defra. One broadcast journalist, who asked not be
named, said there was a growing culture of "obstructiveness" among
officials in London.
It was now a matter of course, she said, for reporters not to be told about
press conferences until the eleventh hour, for requests for interviews with
ministers to be ignored, and inquiries for information to be treated in a
"deeply unpleasant" manner.
To some extent, the hostility is understandable. From the outset of the foot
and mouth crisis, the legion of journalists criss-crossing the country has
been regarded with some suspicion by officials, who fear they may have
contributed to the spread of the virus.
Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union, raised the spectre again
this month when he accused BBC helicopters of fanning the disease by
ignoring no-fly zones - an allegation the corporation has denied.
Following the deluge of critical press coverage of the Government's handling
of the crisis, it is perhaps little wonder if Defra's affection for
journalists has waned.
As one reporter put it: "They've been working all hours on this for
They're knackered, probably bored senseless and patently sick of the endless
Yet reporters who have been covering the crisis from the outset insist there
has been a deeper change in Defra's attitude towards the press. Hedley said
there was a "new hostility", typified by his run-in on Monday.
"As soon as I got out of the car and they saw my cameras, they got very
aggressive," he added. "Even though I was on a public road, and there
other members of the public driving past, they told me I was in a no-go area
and had to move on."
The subsequent police questioning of his movements was "completely over
top," he said. "They put me in the back of their van and gave me a
grilling. They did a vehicle check, wanted to know my parents' address,
"They said my details would be passed on to the trading standards officers
[responsible for monitoring breaches of the Blue Box bio-security zone] for
further investigation. All the time, a Defra official was sitting there,
One newspaper journalist said he was sure many roads in Northumberland had
been closed off specifically in order to keep the press away. Others suspect
Defra has been deliberately holding back details about new outbreaks.
"I get the feeling we're not hearing very quickly about new farms being
affected," one reporter said. "Possibly, after Cumbria, they have
dripfeed the bad news rather than let it all out at once."
Defra insists there has been no edict to hinder journalists. Indeed, a
spokesman said staff were expected to facilitate reporters' needs as best
Yet many feel that such protestations of open government run counter to the
department's own culture of secrecy, epitomised by its requirement - only
recently dropped - that farmers seeking reimbursement for disinfecting their
farms had to sign up to the Official Secrets Act.
Others, however, suspect that cock-up rather than conspiracy is behind
Defra's hostility. One journalist said: "Throughout the crisis, there's
no central strategy on the culling.
"Regulations have been changing almost daily. Inevitably, in such chaotic
circumstances, rules get breached and Defra doesn't want those exposed in
the media spotlight."
Farmers themselves generally welcome press attention. "The majority of
affected by foot and mouth recognise the media is performing a valuable
task," Dovaston said. "The farmers' biggest fear is that their plight
From the Financial Times:
UK company free to develop foot-and-mouth test
By Clive Cookson, Science Editor
Published: August 31 2001 18:40GMT | Last Updated: August 31 2001 20:40GMT
A high technology diagnostics company in the West Midlands is to develop a
rapid genetic test for foot-and-mouth virus, after a delay of several months
caused by what it says was unreasonable government obstruction.
The move comes as the army was called in on Friday to co-ordinate the
slaughter and disposal of animals after three new foot-and-mouth cases in
Micropathology Ltd, based at Warwick University Science Park, has been
trying to obtain supplies of dead virus from the Institute of Animal Health
at Pirbright, Surrey - Britain's foot-and-mouth testing laboratory - in
order to produce an alternative assay.
This would detect the virus directly by its genetic material rather than by
detecting antibodies in infected animals like the official tests.
But the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its
predecessor, Maff, consistently turned the company down on safety and
procedural grounds. Colin Fink, Micropathology's medical specialist, says
inactivated virus poses no risk. He claims the objections were politically
motivated to preserve the public sector's monopoly on foot-and-mouth
This week Lord Whitty, the junior agriculture minister, wrote to the
Countess of Mar who had raised the issue in the House of Lords: "I do not
rule out the possibility of transfer of inactivated FMD material to
Micropathology Ltd provided that Pirbright can agree to a strict protocol
for its release."
But the key phrase in Lord Whitty's letter, according to Dr Fink, was an
acknowledgement that inactivated virus does not come under the specified
animal pathogens order. "This has given us the green light to obtain the
material from other sources," Dr Fink says.
From the Warmwell website:
DOES THE NFU REALLY REPRESENT FARMERS' VIEWS?
IT IS clear, from Mr Utting's reply to my letter criticising the leadership
of the NFU (The Cumberland News, August 17 & 24) that I have touched a raw
nerve. ........... The statistic that the national membership of the NFU
represented 37 per cent of British farmers, which I quoted in my previous
letter, was obtained from the NFU's own London headquarters and has since
I also understand that the membership figure for Cumbria is slightly less
than the national average, at about 33 per cent.
When a poll of Cumbrian farmers was undertaken by David Maclean MP, in April
(something which the NFU should themselves have done if they really wished
to represent the views of their members), 80 per cent of those questioned
stated that they were in favour of some form of vaccination policy.
So far, therefore, from representing the views of 70 per cent of farmers, as
claimed by Mr Utting, it is questionable whether the current NFU leaders
even speak for the majority of their own members. ..... Having listened to
Ben Gill, at the public meeting in Carlisle on August 15, ........I was
dismayed by Mr Gill's negative attitude to the arguments about vaccination.
While claiming to be open minded on this subject, he attempted to play down
or disparage the evidence of acknowledged international authorities who
disagreed with his views, while quoting totally unsubstantiated opinions,
alleged to have been written by some of his overseas farming friends. At the
same time the NFU has, in the past, consistently either refused to meet, or
at the last minute cancelled agreed meetings with independent scientific
supporters of vaccination, such as Dr Ruth Watkins. Tragically, the latest
re-infections of a previously cleared area may lead to further mass culling
of thousands, if not millions more animals, which will affect not only
farmers, but the whole of the economy. May I therefore urgently suggest to
Mr Gill that there should be a national televised debate, preferably on ITV
and chaired, possibly, by Jon Snow, in which Mr Gill will select the
speakers opposed to vaccination and Dr Richard North will select those in
favour. Whilst this may not resolve the problem, it would at least allow
both farmers and the public, perhaps, for many, for the first time, to hear
the real facts and to form their own opinions.
All for now
from Alan & Rosie