14th April 2001

Dear Colleague,

We believe that the initial policy of eradication by culling was correct. Though MAFF have been heavily criticised for the way that the operation was handled, we should not forget that the presence of FMD in a developed agricultural economy on the scale that we have seen in the last month is unprecedented. We can understand the problems that must have arisen in trying to co-ordinate and manage a full scale national emergency.

We would like to draw to the attention of colleagues that we have serious reservations about continuing with the current slaughter and eradication policy. Some of the reasons are outlined below:

1)   Local experience shows that even when the policy is rapidly and correctly implemented it does not control the spread of disease.

2)   There are now very serious welfare problems for all sectors of the livestock industry.  The apparent indifferent attitude of the profession to the pictures in national newspapers of lambs dying in a sea of mud and video footage of marksman trying to shoot sheep at Gilwern will do nothing to enhance the professions position in the eyes of the public.  We can no longer defend the justification of this carnage to support the wider issue of FMD control to the public.   We also wonder if it will be credible for MAFF to have any role in policing animal welfare in the future?  Emergency welfare policies for the movement and disposal of stock on welfare grounds have already been overwhelmed by demand and are patently not working.  

3)   There are still considerable logistical problems concerning the culling and disposal of stock that have not been addressed and are unlikely to be resolved in the near future.

4)   It is no good trying to produce the illusion that the situation is improving when it is obvious by MAFF’s actions that there is a very wide dispersal of infected sheep across the country. The scale of unrecorded movements continues to unravel and will exceed all predictions. There are real practical problems in examining live sheep for FMD lesions as we can see from the number of sheep showing old FMD lesions on contiguous culls. These have obviously recovered from undetected FMD and will continue to remain as a reservoir of infection. This problem will persist and further outbreaks of FMD will occur. We should now be measuring the tail of infection in terms of years rather than months.  We must face the fact that FMD may already be endemic in UK sheep. It is time to think the unthinkable.

5)   There is now a suggestion that more sheep will need to be culled in West Gloucestershire and the Welsh borders. How many more animals will have to be destroyed in this region alone?

6)   The current policy of eradication in not based on issues of food safety or animal welfare. It is simply an issue of cost benefit to the agricultural industry. We are unable to reconcile the economic benefits of the current policy against the human suffering, and the millstone of social and economic costs that now burden the whole (rural) community.     

The opportunity for ring vaccination followed by slaughter is now no longer an option. With “turn out” imminent it is necessary to have a coherent national vaccination strategy for cattle and sheep. We need to address the fears of the farming community that under  EU rules this could introduce a whole new raft of unmanageable constraints and controls. The EU needs to recognise that these controls will have to be adapted to work in a major agriculture economy. 

Other countries have successfully used vaccination, and eminent vets and scientists abroad and at home cannot understand our delay

How far is the profession prepared to compromise animal welfare? How much more social and economic hardship must be borne by the rural and wider community before the profession has enough foresight and courage to say enough is enough?

Yours sincerely

Peter Wood MRCVS      tel 01452 523534

Glynn Wright MRCVS

Richard Rowe MRCVS   tel 01453 843090

Mark Hinds MRCVS

Jim Clapp MRCVS

Richard Lampard MRCVS

Helen Smith MRCVS

Chris Artingstall MRCVS

Tim Knott MRCVS