The British governments response to the present outbreak of Foot
and Mouth Disease (FMD) has seen at least 6 million cattle, sheep and
pigs slaughtered. This is around 10% of the entire national livestock
herd. This figure differs from the official statistics, which do not include
lambs and calves. (1)
THE SLAUGHTER POLICY
Due to the slaughter policy all animals on a farm which has been deemed
to be "infected, regardless of whether all the animals are
infected or not, are killed. Even more controversially, and for the first
time ever in Britain, the policy also wipes out all the stock on all the
farms which border the "infected farm. This is known as the
"contiguous cull. Moreover, all the sheep within a 3-km radius
are killed. The slaughter policy is built on the theory that if you slaughter
enough animals fast enough you will outrun the disease, and you will create
"firebreaks which prevent the disease spreading further.
The first mention of the 3-km Kill Zone appears to be in a paper published
last year by Dr Alex Donaldson and 3 other specialists, in the scientific
journal Epidemiology and Infection. It claimed that "transmission
from infected cattle or sheep could not be shown to occur over distances
of more than about 3-km.(2) It appears this was the available science,
which was used to justify the policy. However, this was the first time
such a controversial and potentially devastating contiguous killing policy
had been used. The 1967 outbreak came under control without a contiguous
Moreover, Donaldson has since updated his work in the Veterinary
Record (12 May 2001). In it he claims that 1000 infected sheep
can only spread the virus downwind approximately 200 metres. 1000 infected
cattle are alleged to spread it approximately 700 metres. (3) He sits
on the governments scientific advisory committee. When the disease
broke in March, it is inconceivable that he did not advise the government
of his latest and soon to be published, research, which could have prevented
the contiguous culling policy.
During an outbreak, a very large number of infected animals could not
pass without being noticed. Therefore, one is only looking at the risk
of downwind spread of the virus from between 10 and 100 infected animals,
on any one premises. This reduces the downwind spread to 200 metres maximum
for cattle and less than 100 metres for sheep? Therefore, why the 3-km
Naturally, faced with a Government policy of almost total wipe-out in
3-km "kill zones, the countryside went into a state of shutdown.
Farmers and rural dwellers became paralysed, afraid to move for fear of
"spreading the disease although nobody knew exactly
how the disease was spread. Paths were closed, movement restrictions were
put in place and people stopped visiting the countryside. Rural businesses
went into meltdown.
AIRBORNE THEORY CHALLENGED
Indeed, eminent experts such as Fred Brown of Plum Animal Disease Centre
in New York challenge even the idea that the virus can be spread in the
air. He carried out an experiment seven times to see if
neighbouring pigs separated in the same shed could spread it to each other.
None of the healthy pigs caught the virus. Brown states, "There is
no direct, physical evidence for airborne transmission of foot-and-mouth
Still the leaders of the National Farmers Unions of both England
and Scotland support the slaughter policy because they believe that a
culling policy will enable Britain to regain "disease free
status quicker and hence enables the export markets to re-open sooner.
However, export markets are more likely to return quicker if vaccination
is used. For example, if we use emergency vaccination that is,
if we vaccinate around the outbreaks only then we will regain "disease
free status, and re-open export markets, one year after the last
emergency vaccination, or one year after the last outbreak, whichever
is the later. If we vaccinate the entire national herd, then we will regain
"disease free status and export markets, two years after the
last vaccination, or the last outbreak, whichever is the later. Since
vaccination will lead to outbreaks finishing sooner, then export markets
will return quicker, if we use vaccination.
FARMERS LEADERS FEAR DISEASE BECOMING ENDEMIC
Farmers leaders also fear that vaccinated animals can become carriers
and that this would lead to the disease becoming endemic, which would
constantly threaten Britains "disease free status and
its export trade.
However, Prof. Fred Brown, has recently stated that infected animals can
be distinguished from vaccinated animals by a simple test of their blood.
If a vaccinated animal becomes infected, then it can be identified by
this test. (5) He also stated that if a vaccinated animal becomes infected
and becomes a carrier then it is extremely unlikely that it would pass
on the virus to other animals. Many attempts to infect animals by bringing
them into contact with carrier animals have failed and he knows of only
one case. That also bears out the finding of the official 1968 Northumberland
Report into the 1967 outbreak which emphasised that "the danger of
carrier animals had been exaggerated and that carriers in a susceptible
population did not constitute a significant risk. That report also
concurred with the earlier Gower Report of the 1950s that: "slaughter
is a crude and primitive way of dealing with the disease. (6)
Moreover, it doesnt make economic sense to base policy entirely
upon achieving disease-free status for the export markets, because disease-free
status is a highly vulnerable condition, and can be lost at any time.
And theres no telling when the export markets may fall or disappear.
Are all the Europeans really going to rush out and buy British meat again?
Britain may find that nobody wants to buy its meat, disease-free or not.
ANIMALS WILL RECOVER
Affected animals almost always recover and become immune to that strain
of the infection. Death occurs in a maximum 5 percent of cases, and then
only in those animals with weak constitutions; for example, the very young
and the very old.
Indeed, the disease is so harmless in sheep that Vets openly admit they
have trouble diagnosing it. Evidence indicates that FMD is curable through
the application of simple, basic husbandry techniques. For example, Henry
Hamilton wrote a pamphlet in 1967 recounting how, as herd manager on the
Duke of Westminsters estate in the 1922-1924 outbreak; he successfully
nursed the herd through the outbreak. Those animals afflicted were simply
isolated, kept as clean as possible, and treated with a mixture of Stockholm
tar and salt. In other words, they were cured by the application of basic
animal husbandry techniques. (7)
TRUE EXTENT OF THE OUTBREAK CHALLENGED
There is a huge potential for the mistaken diagnosis of Foot and Mouth
Disease. Cattle, sheep and pigs are constantly afflicted with foot irritations.
How many of these, in the present atmosphere, are being wrongly diagnosed
as FMD? How many vets and Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(MAFF) officials will pronounce a positive confirmation "just to
be on the safe side? This situation is heightened by the complete
ignorance among farmers, vets, and MAFF officials as to what the disease,
or its symptoms even look like. Most have never seen a genuine case before.
Indeed, there is growing evidence that many of the diagnoses have been
wrong. For example, In the south of Scotland during March and April 2001,
many sheep were being diagnosed as having "Foot and Mouth although
they appeared otherwise healthy. This led to mass killings of tens of
thousands of sheep throughout the area. Only now has it been revealed
that the "mystery blisters were not related to the disease.
BLOOD TEST HIGHLY VULNERABLE TO FALSE POSITIVE RESULT
ELISA - the blood test used to confirm the presence of the supposed FMD
virus - does not detect the virus. It merely delivers the positive reading
by detecting proteins and antibodies in the blood which are presumed to
be there as a result of the presence of the virus but which can
be there for other harmless reasons. ELISA is therefore also highly liable
to produce a false FMD positive response.
Indeed, Dr Paul Kitching, former head of the exotic diseases department
at the Institute of Animal Health in Pirbright, Surrey - the official
foot and mouth research centre - stated in an internal memo "it is
important to note that at least 25% of the samples submitted from infected
premises are not registering as positives. (9)
Nevertheless, all the animals on these premises were slaughtered before
the results came back negative, and millions of animals within a 3-km
radius of them, were also killed! Given this evidence, we are entitled
to question the true extent of this outbreak.
SLAUGHTER POLICY IS NOT A SUSTAINABLE POLICY
Slaughter is on this industrial scale contrary to the whole concept of
"animal husbandry. Even more a slaughter policy condemns British
agriculture to a highly vulnerable future. Balanced precariously on a
knife-edge constantly fearing the eruption of a new outbreak, it
will decimate everything the farmers have managed to build from the ruins
of the present one. The slaughter policy is too high a price to pay.
Moreover, the consequences of the slaughter policy for the wider
community are far too severe to ever again be tolerated. For example,
the slaughter policy has been directly responsible for the animal welfare
abuses, which have been perpetrated. It is responsible for the restrictions,
which are being placed upon our movement. It is responsible for the devastating
loss of income being suffered by small businesses in the rural areas.
It is responsible for a growing loss of confidence and trust in the police.
Law-abiding people are starting to talk about how they feel they are living
in a "police state. We have seen "armed response units
on standby outside the premises of farmers. (10)
If it were not for the slaughter policy, life in the countryside would
have continued very much as normal. Foot and Mouth would have been just
like any other animal disease that the public never hears about and doesnt
The slaughter policy, especially the contiguous cull, is not backed by
adequate science. The risk of airborne spread appears to be minimal.
Moreover, many of the alleged "infected animals never had the
disease in the first place.
Millions of animals have been slaughtered in vain, and the farming and
rural community has suffered considerable negative consequences as a result
of this flawed policy.
1) Shelley Wright, "MAFFs figures conceal true number of F&M
culls, The Farmers Weekly, 8 June 2001, p. 8.
2) Sorensen JH, Mackay DKJ, Jensen CO and Donaldson AI, "An integrated
model to predict the atmospheric spread of foot-and-mouth disease virus,
Epidemiology and Infection, Volume 124, Number 3, June 2000, p. 577.
3) Donaldson AI, Alexandersen S, Sorensen JH, Mikkelsen T, "Relative
risks of the uncontrollable (airborne) spread of FMD by different species,
The Veterinary Record, 12 May 2001, pp. 602-604.
4) Steve Connor and Nigel Morris "Maff warns farmers to enforce the
firewalls, The Independent, 10 April 2001, p. 6.
5) See his work available at http://www.sheepdrove.com/fam.htm
6) Downloadable copy of Northumberland Report available at http://www.sheepdrove.com/fam.htm
7) Charles Clover, "Old cowmens cure saved dukes pedigree
herd, The Daily Telegraph 21-3-01, p. 6.
8) David Brown, "Blisters not linked to Foot and Mouth,
The Daily Telegraph, 18 June 2001, p. 8.
9) David Leppard and Jon Ungoed-Thomas, "Flawed cull
damned by top scientist, The Sunday Times, 29 April 2001, p. 1.
10) David Sanderson and Sharon Liptrott, "Armed officer action branded
over the top, The Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 27
April 2001, p. 9.
Article written for CONTINUUM Magazine.
The author can be contacted at <email@example.com>