The immediate use of vaccination would have minimised the consequential damage inflicted on the industry after the confirmation of foot-and-mouth disease on a Surrey farm, says Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association.

Despite DEFRA’s apparent success in controlling the disease with its slaughter policy, Mr Holden is adamant that “the strategic use of vaccination [around the first infected premises] would have minimised the collateral damage created by the draconian stamping-out policy”.

He believes vaccination would have permitted much of the country to continue business as usual while offering protection to the neighbouring farms.

“DEFRA might have reacted swiftly and to much applause, but the policy remains wrong. The current policy creates as much fear among producers as the possibility of contracting the disease itself.

“Numerous reports since 1967 consistently enforce the position of vaccinate-to-live as the first line of response,” said Mr Holden.

His position is partially supported by Compassion in World Farming, which, while it does not oppose the culling of animals on infected premises and those considered dangerous contacts, strongly objects on humane grounds to contiguous culling.

But farmers’ groups do not support the use of vaccination as the first line of defence.

Tenant Farmers Association chief executive George Dunn said his position had not altered since the 2001 outbreak.

“We only support its use as a last resort if slaughter-and-destroy fails. We believe slaughter is the best policy. I think we would be in a much worse position if we had gone for a policy of ring vaccination.”

He added that the TFA had not heard from any members who supported the use of vaccination as a first response. Vaccination would greatly increase the length of any export ban.

David Catlow, president of the British Veterinary Association, said vaccination was “a very useful weapon in our armoury against foot-and-mouth, that should only be used when appropriate.

“But that is the problem: When is it appropriate? We have to be very clear that the disease is spreading. So far we have had only two infected premises. There is no case to use vaccination now.”

The BVA’s position is supported by breed society Holstein UK, which fears the extended loss of the export market. “Under the slaughter policy exports can resume three months after the final confirmed outbreak this would increase to six months following the use vaccination. We must recognise its immediate economic consequences,” said Holstein UK’s Lucy Andrews.