Top scientist condemns 'flawed' cull
David Leppard and Jon Ungoed-Thomas
29 April, 2001
ONE of Tony Blair's leading scientific advisers on foot and mouth disease
has condemned the government's policy of mass culling, the centrepiece of
its efforts to stop the epidemic, as "fundamentally flawed".
Dr Paul Kitching, one of the leading experts on the disease, discloses in
an internal memo that one in four farms has been wrongly diagnosed as
This means that, when the culls on neighbouring farms are taken into
account, about 550,000 of the 2.2m animals killed to date have been
Kitching's memo discloses that "it is important to note that at least 25%
of the [animal] samples submitted from infected premises are not
registering as positives". Some 400 of the 1,600 farms condemned as
infected are now known never to have had the disease.
The five-page leaked memo - a summary by the National Sheep Association of
a meeting it held with Kitching - is an indictment of the government's foot
and mouth failures.
Kitching is leaving his post as head of the exotic diseases department at
the Institute of Animal Health in Pirbright, Surrey, the official foot and
mouth research centre, for a job in Canada. He sits on the committee set up
to handle the crisis, and this weekend backed calls for a public inquiry
He believes the policy of culling within 3km of an infected farm was based
on the wrong model and was introduced on the back of a "fundamentally
flawed" prediction. The models developed by the Ministry of Agriculture,
Fisheries and Food (Maff) were based on the 1967 epidemic, which affected
pigs and cattle. Kitching's memo stated they failed to take into account
that this year's outbreak hit mainly sheep, which are not as infectious.
"The different reactions to the disease between species had not been taken
The memo reveals for the first time how civil servants and scientists
blundered in trying to predict the spread of the disease. As a result, Maff
targeted resources in the wrong areas.
Kitching's colleagues said that he was embarrassed at the way the crisis
had been handled by Downing Street.
It emerged last night that the army supplied untreated waste food to the
farm where the outbreak is thought to have started.