25 April 2001
US machine may have spread virus

by Alistair Driver

THE British government rejected the offer of an American machine to detect foot-and-mouth disease because it could have spread the virus.

Chief Veterinary Officer David King told MPs that not enough work had been done on the hand-held machine to prove whether it was accurate.

There were also fears that the machine, which would have been used to test for disease on farms, could spread the disease from farm-to-farm, he said.

The cross contamination question has not been answered, he told the House of Commons Agricultural Select Committee on Wednesday (25 April).

Prof King confirmed that the US Department of Agriculture offered the machine to Britain on March 9 as the foot-and-mouth epidemic was about to peak.

Fred Brown, a scientist from the USDA Plum Island Animal Disease Centre, has claimed that the machine could have saved hundreds of thousands of animals.

He said it could give accurate results in 2-3 hours.

But Alex Donaldson, head of epidemiology Britains Institute of Animal Health, said chief veterinary officer Jim Scudamore rejected the offer.

Prof Donaldson suggested that the Americans had offered the machine because they wanted to it tested on a real outbreak.

Normally such equipment would only be taken on if it had been validated by data showing its effectiveness, he said

We had no data and no proof that the machine has been validated.

Prof Donaldson reiterated fears that the machine, which costs 22,000, could have spread infection if used on more than one farm.

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