26 October 2001

Learn lessons now, DEFRAis warned

POLICY makers must learn lessons from their colleagues in the Department of Health if farming is to avoid future disease catastrophes, one of Scotlands most respected scientists has warned.

William Stewart, president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, said the Department of Health was moving away from the broad, centrally-controlled strategies, to delivering policy on the ground. Agricultural officials should take a similar approach, he indicated.

"There are also well designed protocols in place that can be made readily available to anyone who needs them at an operational level in the event of national health emergencies," Sir William told a conference in Edinburgh addressing economic recovery in Scotland after foot-and-mouth.

"We dont seem to see that with agriculture," he said. Although DEFRA and the Department of Health were close geographically, they were light years apart in attitude. The Royal Society of Edinburgh is currently conducting an independent inquiry into F&M in Scotland. And one of the key questions to be addressed was why vaccination has not been used, said Sir William. &#42

"Vaccinations have revolutionised human health care. It has been said there are too many F&M strains to allow vaccination to be effective, but there are no more strains than there are of the flu.

"I am not saying we necessarily should have used vaccination in this outbreak rather than a slaughter policy. But what I dislike is people who rule out any roles that vaccination might play in the future. It must be seen as a tool that can be used."

NFU Scotland vice-president Peter Stewart said many people still contracted flu each year despite vaccinations. "Things may be different in the future, but the science suggests that vaccination against foot-and-mouth has no place at the moment," he said.