Epidemic lesson must be learnt, says vet

Epidemic lesson must be learnt, says vet

August 11, 2001 The Times (London) by Andrew Norfolk

The three new government inquiries into the foot-and-mouth epidemic will be a waste of time if their findings meet the same fate as the report into the 1967 outbreak, a vet who worked through that epidemic said.

Ken Tyrrell, the veterinary surgeon who diagnosed the first and last cases of the disease during the epidemic that hit 2,228 farms and led to the publication of the 1969 Northumberland report. He accused the Government of ignoring or delaying action on a host of its recommendations, including the involvement of the Army, swift diagnosis and slaughter, the use of ring vaccination and merits of burial in preference to funeral pyres.

The 1969 review, chaired by the Duke of Northumberland, made a detailed series of recommendations on how Britain should deal with any future outbreak of foot-and-mouth. Elliot Morley, the Agriculture Minister, said recently that the Northumberland findings "form the basis of the Government's policy for keeping the disease out of the country, and of our contingency plans for fighting an outbreak of foot-and-mouth".

Mr Tyrrell said, however, that had it learnt the lessons of 1967, the Government would not only have brought this year's epidemic under control much more quickly, but it would also have made it less likely for the first case of infection to have arrived in Britain.

He said: "It is as if all our efforts in 1967 were worthless. We recorded our findings for the benefit of future generations, but what was the use? No one has paid the slightest attention."

Mr Tyrrell said that the Government had ignored the Northumberland report's preventive advice to ban swill-feeding to pigs and to ban the import of meat on the bone from countries where foot-and-mouth was endemic.

When the disease broke out: "If they had only taken the report out, dusted it down and studied it, they would have called in the Army from day one, they would have dealt with infection cases immediately, buried animals on farms and disinfected premises completely within 24 hours.

"There is absolutely no point in holding three inquiries into foot-and-mouth unless you are going to get to the bottom of what happened and then apply the lessons you have learnt for the future. I have very, very little confidence that this will happen."

Qualified support for Mr Tyrrell came from Francis Anthony, a former president of the British Veterinary Association, who worked in Cheshire in 1967. Although he accepted the Government's argument that there were major differences between the two outbreaks, not least the length of time before the first case was diagnosed in 2001, which allowed the infection to be spread by sheep all over the country, Mr Anthony said that there had still been "dreadful, appalling delays".

He said: "I can remember telling the Government that if they took an axe to the State Veterinary Service then the day they had a war, such as a foot-and-mouth outbreak, they wouldn't be able to cope, and that's what happened.

"The main lesson we learnt from 1967 was that the sooner the animals were destroyed, the quicker you stopped the production of the virus."

Leading article, page 19 Weekend, page 3 THE TIMES ONLINE www.thetimes.co.uk Foot-and-mouth: latest news online

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