Pyres fallout spread disease, says vet

October 13, 2001 The Times (London) by Simon de Bruxelles
FOOT-AND-MOUTH disease was spread by debris from burning carcasses, a vet told a public inquiry yesterday. Wendy Vere described how unburnt hair and skin from one pyre fell around the village of Knowstone in Devon, where several cases of the disease were confirmed later.

She said she was 100 per cent certain that the virus that causes foot-and mouth could be spread by contact with hair from infected animals, despite the former Ministry of Agriculture's view that there was no risk. Mrs Vere, who has a practice in Morchard Bishop, Devon, said that she collected bags of "great big lumps" of unburnt skin and hair from pyres and that similar debris had fallen on cars on the North Devon link road. She told the inquiry being held by Devon County Council that over-zealous civil servants had been responsible for "carnage by computer" when they ordered contiguous culls without taking local conditions into account. The result was the unnecessary slaughter of tens of thousands of animals on farms that bordered infected premises, but were, in reality, separated. In one case, a farm was ruled to be contiguous even though it was six fields and a road away from the nearest infection.

Mrs Vere said: "Each farm has a holding number and the farms around it have holding numbers, but in reality the animals could be many miles away and separated by arable fields, woods or rivers.

"The person in London will just see the numbers and say they have to be taken out. That was why it was carnage by computer. They were taken out without any local knowledge and in some cases there was no more disease risk than if they had been on the other side of the county."

She added: "In the past six months I have seen more animal welfare issues and more distressed colleagues and farmers than I ever dreamt possible. It has been a horrific experience."

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