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Foot and mouth cull 'was barbaric'

June 19, 2002 The Daily Telegraph (London) by Robert Uhlig
THE Government's contiguous cull policy used to fight last year's foot and mouth epidemic was condemned yesterday as "barbaric conduct" and "a disgrace to humanity".

Every one of eight scientific expert witnesses told a European Union inquiry that vaccination must be used in any future outbreak.

The experts, some of whom have given evidence to the British foot and mouth inquiries due to report next month, called into question the Government's adherence to the contiguous cull policy and its rejection of vaccination as the disease spiralled out of control in the run-up to the election last year. All the arguments used by those opposing vaccination were criticised at the meeting in Brussels. Scientists and vets from Britain, Europe and America said that field tests to distinguish between vaccinated and infected animals had been in use for at least six years. The inquiry, which begins a four-day fact-finding visit to the West Country and Wales today, was also told that the "non-structural protein" test cost 65p per animal and "has been used in Turkey in Bulgaria, and in Macedonia and Albania as long go as 1996". It was also told that vaccines were fully effective and that sufficient supplies of the correct strain were available last year. Alex Donaldson, a member of the Cabinet Office committee of government advisers that proposed the culling policy, yesterday distanced himself from the contiguous cull policy, which resulted in the deaths of more than 10 million animals, and said that an alternative involving testing would have greatly reduced the number of animals slaughtered.

Mr Donaldson, head of the Institute for Animal Health's laboratory at Pirbright in Surrey, said: "I supported the 3km cull early in the epidemic, but not once we had got a hold on the disease. There was no justification for the 3km or the contiguous cull, which were both novel and untested, once the resources were available to go back to traditional culling and disease control methods.

"Had the cull been restricted to neighbouring and dangerous-contact premises the scale of stamping out could have been massively reduced. If testing had been used more widely we would not have had to stamp out as many sheep."

Mr Donaldson also condemned British supermarkets for adding to the pressure opposing vaccination. He said there was no risk to human health from eating vaccinated meat and milk. "Meat and milk is routinely vaccinated against a host of diseases and there is nothing different about foot and mouth," he said.

Prof Fred Brown, a world expert on foot and mouth, said that prophylactic vaccination, which was used from 1952 until 1989 throughout Europe, had been very effective: "It had a dramatic effect on the elimination of infection". He said vaccination last year would have reduced the number of animals slaughtered because it would have "reduced the amount of virus around and would have bought time". He added: "The barbaric conduct in Britain last year was a disgrace to humanity."

Prof Peter Thein, an expert in vaccination from Munich University, said it was "simply not possible" to control by culling epidemics such as Britain experienced last year, where the "outbreaks were widespread and industrial farming had dramatically extended the spread of the disease". THE Government's contiguous cull policy used to fight last year's foot and mouth epidemic was condemned yesterday as "barbaric conduct" and "a disgrace to humanity".

Every one of eight scientific expert witnesses told a European Union inquiry that vaccination must be used in any future outbreak.

The experts, some of whom have given evidence to the British foot and mouth inquiries due to report next month, called into question the Government's adherence to the contiguous cull policy and its rejection of vaccination as the disease spiralled out of control in the run-up to the election last year. All the arguments used by those opposing vaccination were criticised at the meeting in Brussels. Scientists and vets from Britain, Europe and America said that field tests to distinguish between vaccinated and infected animals had been in use for at least six years. The inquiry, which begins a four-day fact-finding visit to the West Country and Wales today, was also told that the "non-structural protein" test cost 65p per animal and "has been used in Turkey in Bulgaria, and in Macedonia and Albania as long go as 1996". It was also told that vaccines were fully effective and that sufficient supplies of the correct strain were available last year. Alex Donaldson, a member of the Cabinet Office committee of government advisers that proposed the culling policy, yesterday distanced himself from the contiguous cull policy, which resulted in the deaths of more than 10 million animals, and said that an alternative involving testing would have greatly reduced the number of animals slaughtered.

Mr Donaldson, head of the Institute for Animal Health's laboratory at Pirbright in Surrey, said: "I supported the 3km cull early in the epidemic, but not once we had got a hold on the disease. There was no justification for the 3km or the contiguous cull, which were both novel and untested, once the resources were available to go back to traditional culling and disease control methods.

"Had the cull been restricted to neighbouring and dangerous-contact premises the scale of stamping out could have been massively reduced. If testing had been used more widely we would not have had to stamp out as many sheep."

Mr Donaldson also condemned British supermarkets for adding to the pressure opposing vaccination. He said there was no risk to human health from eating vaccinated meat and milk. "Meat and milk is routinely vaccinated against a host of diseases and there is nothing different about foot and mouth," he said.

Prof Fred Brown, a world expert on foot and mouth, said that prophylactic vaccination, which was used from 1952 until 1989 throughout Europe, had been very effective: "It had a dramatic effect on the elimination of infection". He said vaccination last year would have reduced the number of animals slaughtered because it would have "reduced the amount of virus around and would have bought time". He added: "The barbaric conduct in Britain last year was a disgrace to humanity."

Prof Peter Thein, an expert in vaccination from Munich University, said it was "simply not possible" to control by culling epidemics such as Britain experienced last year, where the "outbreaks were widespread and industrial farming had dramatically extended the spread of the disease".

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