14 September 2001
MAFF ‘ignored virus diagnosis kit’

By Mike Stones

MILLIONS of stock could have been saved from the foot-and-mouth cull if MAFF had taken up a rapid diagnostic kit in March.

The Cepheid Smart Cycler, which confirms the presence of the foot-and-mouth virus within two hours, was offered to MAFF on 9 March, a London conference organised by Compassion in World Farming was told on Friday morning (14 September).

No bigger than a suitcase, the machine, developed in the USA as a weapon against bio-terrorism, uses nasal or throat swabs to rapidly confirm or deny the presence of the foot-and-mouth virus.

Professor Fred Brown, who has been researching the foot-and-mouth virus for 46 years, said the kit could have helped to spare the lives of millions of healthy animals.

If it had been used seven months ago to identify precisely which animals were infected, they could have been spared from the contiguous cull.

“The great advantage of the Smart Cycler is that it can detect the presence of the disease 24-48 hours before clinical symptoms appear,” said Mr Brown.

The governments failure neither to use the rapid diagnostic kit nor to vaccinate could cost the lives of 7.9m animals if the disease continues until next April, said CIWF political director, Peter Stevenson.

“Up to 2.5 million possibly healthy animals could have been spared if the test was introduced at an early stage,” he warned.

Preventing the further spread of the disease now depended on using the rapid diagnosis machine to identify and slaughter only infected stock in new and contiguous cases.

That should be used with a policy of vaccinating all stock within 10km of infected cases to create a firewall, he added.

Actor, CIWF patron and self-styled housewife Joanna Lumley expressed outrage at the governments opposition to vaccination.

“Foot-and-mouth is the only disease, either animal or human, against which the government refuses to vaccinate.

“I am furious at the governments cover-up on a scale we have not seen before.”

Ken Tyrell, former senior vet during the 1967/68 outbreak said he was “ashamed, frustrated and horrified, ” at the basic errors MAFF had made in its handling of the outbreak.

One of its chief errors, he said, was “refusing to consider vaccination policy when it became obvious from day seven that not to vaccinate and to give way to the NFUs dogged opposition to vaccination would contribute to the destruction of the rural economy.”

CIWF is organising a meeting in Bristol on Saturday (15 September) to promote the benefits of foot-and-mouth vaccination.

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