The following letter, from a vet, appeared in The Independent, 16 April
TIME TO VACCINATE by HELEN GOULD
Sir. I am a large-animal veterinary surgeon who feels a need to question the
approach to foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) currently being pursued.
The disease here in Cumbria is still spreading quickly and is now being seen
on the outlying fells of the Lake District. Cases are being reported from
previously uninfected areas around the country, all of which indicates we
are far from controlling the disease, whatever the government announcements.
At the moment the disease is being spread via sheep, as these are the
animals out at grass and are difficult to spot the signs in. Within the next
few weeks farmers will be forced, through lack of fodder, to turn their
cattle out. I believe this will precipitate a huge increase in cases. This
could be prevented if we vaccinate now. And I mean vaccinate the whole
The income gained from agricultural exports is approximately equal to that
spent on imports (or even less in some accounts). There does not seem to be
an argument for maintaining FMD-free status. Add into this the environmental
cost of shipping animals and meat around the world and the figures are even
FMD does not produce a high mortality and farmers could learn to live with
the occasional case that developed where there was vaccine breakdown. I
worked in Nepal for a number of years and treated several cases of FMD. Yes,
there is some loss of production and some animals undoubtedly suffer for
some time but that is also the case for many other diseases encountered on
farms. If all animals were vaccinated, these looses would be sporadic.
We have good recording and tracing mechanisms already in place thanks to
BSE, so implementing and monitoring vaccination should be possible.
If this policy were followed we would still have to maintain controls (ban
on swill feeding, strict controls on meat imports) to keep out other strains
of FMD and ensure our vaccine was effective.
The reality is that FMD is now virtually endemic. Vaccination should not be
seen as a failure but a reasonable response to reality. It is also an
opportunity for us to begin to develop a more sustainable, locally based