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Foot and mouth crisis: Can we really believe the worst is over?:
The government's chief scientist has claimed the epidemic is under control. Others disagree

April 21, 2001  The Guardian (London) by Max Houghton and Faisal al Yafai
"You cannot define 20 new cases as under control; if we had had that in the early stages we would have been desperately alarmed. It's about half the maximum rate, which means that the outbreak may not be quite as out of control as it was. But if you talk to people on the ground in Devon and Cumbria and south west Scotland, there is still a major problem.

"We all hope it will be brought under control. But I think whether or not the disease is in decline and has reached a point where it can be controlled by slaughter, it doesn't remove the question of whether culling is the best strategy either in the tail end of this outbreak or in a new one.

"If you bring the disease under control by killing all the livestock in the area it's a pyrrhic victory."

Martin Haworth, director of policy, National Farmers' Union

"We're certainly not going to use the phrase 'under control' because it's capable of misinterpretation. It's under control in the sense that all the evidence is that the outbreak has hit its peak and is on the way down, but we will not accept we have defeated the disease until we have seen the last case.

"Complacency would be a danger. The mechanisms in place are having an effect, but if people think it's been defeated when it hasn't and become lax and start moving animals against the rules, or not being so assiduous with disinfecting themselves or vehicles, there's the risk of a new outbreak in an area where we haven't had one so far. That would be a disaster."

Harold Armstrong, farmer, Bromfield, Cumbria

"Around here we're on target, slaughtering animals within 10 days of reporting the infection, but that doesn't mean it's under control. Nationally the number of farms infected is falling, but the percentage of cases in some areas like Cumbria is rising.

"From here, I can see 12 farms around me that have been infected, and only four that are left. Two-thirds of farms have been infected, and those that are left are on their own, so if they're saying the number is falling, that's because there aren't many farms left."

Peter Vasey, pedigree cattle breeder, Cumbria

"There do seem to be less cases, but there's also less cattle left to infect in Cum bria. There's a good chance the worst is over, but farmers have suffered badly."

Paul Ashley, north-west representative for Farmers for Action

"There are smaller numbers of reported cases at the mo ment, and we are improving the immediate cull. If you look at what was happening at the start of the outbreak, after each reported case there would be an outbreak on a neighbouring farm 10 to 12 days later. Now they are removing the infected ani mals almost within 24 hours. It is improving.

"If Maff and the army can get on top of the disposal of carcasses, then maybe the timing goals will be achieved and if that happens then we will see a significant reduction in the number of cases."

Lieutenant-Colonel Barry Hawgood, spokesman for the army's operation in Cumbria

"It's a very dangerous thing to say that the epidemic is now under control. We're confident that we are in control of the situation as it is now, but if we have a flare-up, a new outbreak that we didn't anticipate, it could lead our resources to a level we don't wish to use. We have 250 personnel deployed in Cumbria, and we are capable of culling and clearance under present conditions."

Professor Mark Woolhouse, veterinary epidemiologist, University of Edinburgh

"If the rate at which each outbreak is generating new outbreaks is greater than one, you are in a period of increase. That was the basis on which we reported the epidemic was out of control. By our estimation it has fallen below one and if it stays there the epidemic is in a declining phase. As long as control measures are maintained, the rate should remain below one. I hope the report will encourage those on the ground that their efforts are working and they should continue with them, in particular focusing on 24-hour culling, which has had a real effect. Relaxation of the measures could allow the rate to rise."

Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

"The epidemic is under control on two counts: slaughter is being effectively managed, and expansion of daily figures is flattening out. There were 16 new cases confirmed yesterday; it was 40 to 50 a day at the height of the epidemic. Had it not been tackled in the way it has been, with the vigorous culling policy for infected animals and those on contiguous premises, then it would have spread completely out of control by now."


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