15 March 2002

No-jab F&Mpolicy

By Isabel Davies

PRO-vaccine campaigners have expressed frustration that animals would be culled rather than vaccinated in the event of another foot-and-mouth outbreak while farm leaders say they have reservations about plans to keep the countryside open.

Ministers published on Tuesday (Mar 13) a 62-page interim document which sets out contingency plans to deal with another outbreak of the disease.

Junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley said the document was very much "work in progress" and the outcome of the governments inquiries into F&M would feed in. "But we obviously need to be able to respond rapidly between now and the outcome of the inquiry process," he said.

The document makes it clear the policy of slaughter rather than vaccination would remain the main control measure and would also apply to contiguous premises. "Vaccination should be considered as a separate strategy, but would not be an alternative to slaughter in the first instance."

All livestock movements would be stopped once the first case was confirmed, the report says. But a blanket approach to footpath closures would not be repeated. Carcasses would be disposed of by incineration, rather than burned on pyres or sent to mass burial sites.

But Ben Thomas, access adviser for the Country Land and Business Association, said the countryside should be closed until sufficient evidence was available to make decisions on a risk basis.

"Until that point, all access to the countryside needs to be restricted, but on a time limited basis, for example, a two week period," he said.

Stephen Rossides, NFU head of the food, health and science department, agreed that it may be better to invoke the precautionary principle. "I think we would err on the side of caution and if in any doubt close pathways. You can always quickly open them again."

Mr Rossides said two omissions in the report were how to deal with welfare cases and proper procedures on cleansing and disinfection.

The union agreed at this stage a slaughter policy should remain the first line of defence. But it had not ruled out vaccination especially as better vaccines and tests are developed, said Mr Rossides.

But a spokeswoman for the Soil Association, one of the groups behind the campaign for vaccination, argued it was now the best way to control outbreaks and the government should give it serious consideration. &#42