95 percent of culled animals died healthy

April 22, 2001 Sunday Telegraph (London) by Christopher Booker
One of the greatest scandals of the foot and mouth (FMD) epidemic is the huge number of animals being killed on suspicion of infection which tests subsequently show not to have been justified. The much-loved stock on a little "urban farm" at Lawrence Weston in Bristol was a case in point. But this is even worse when it applies to animals on surrounding farms in the so-called "three kilometre protection zone", which all too often are being similarily drawn into the unnecessary slaughter. These "three kilometre zones" are specified by EU directive 85/511, which dictates much of how Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) is handling the epidemic; but the decision to "ring cull" all animals in these zones was a refinement devised by our own officials.

When FMD was suspected on a farm in Roxburghshire, all animals on this and two other farms were immediately slaughtered, although samples were also taken for analysis. The local vet then had to apply to Maff for a ruling on what to do about thousands of animals on several other neighbouring farms, because part of them fell within the dreaded three kilometre zone. Maff's response was that they should all be killed. But before the axe could fall, news came through that FMD had been suspected on a farm near Jedburgh, 30 miles away, and the officials all rushed off there, to kill 20,000 animals on 26 farms.

By the time they returned, those original tests had turned out to be negative. Only through the chance of that Jedburgh outbreak are thousands of sheep and cattle still alive to this day. But by no means everyone is so lucky. Perhaps no statistic about this catastrophe is more chilling than the estimate that more than 95 per cent of the 1.3 million animals so far slaughtered were perfectly healthy at the moment of death.

Such is the price we have paid for the European Union's decision in 1991 to outlaw vaccination as a means of fighting FMD, except on a very limited basis. Neverthless when there was a serious outbreak in Albania in 1996, as I have reported before, it was the EU itself which rushed in to vaccinate every animal in sight, lest the virus spread across its borders - with the result that the disease was eliminated in 12 weeks.

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