9 March 2001

Vaccination is not viable – slaughter is the only option

By Shelley Wright

A MASS slaughter policy, rather than turning to emergency vaccination, is the only realistic way to tackle the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.

While the general media have questioned the need for a mass cull farmers leaders, government ministers and vets have insisted that slaughtering stock on infected farms is the way to deal with the disease.

Alternative options, such as vaccination or allowing the disease to run its course, present a host of problems ranging from severe animal welfare problems to loss of international export markets.

"The slaughter policy is the only way to go forward," says Keith Baker, past president of the British Veterinary Association.

"There are seven strains of the foot-and-mouth virus and numerous sub-types, meaning that there are more than 50 different types of the virus. So the chance of picking the right vaccine is very unlikely.

"And there is no cross-immunity. So if you vaccinate animals against one strain of virus then they have no protection at all if challenged with another strain," Mr Baker says. Animals immune response to vaccination also varies, so there would be no guarantee that all animals were protected.

He insists that any idea of leaving the virus to run its course is also unacceptable. "From an animal welfare point of view, the disease causes severe problems. Not only would animals be severely lame, but you would see cases so severe that the entire surface epithelium of cows tongues can come off."

And the Meat and Livestock Commission points out that if pigs are left with the disease, the virus can cause their trotters to drop off.

Although it is rarely fatal in adult livestock, the mortality rate in young animals can be as high as 50%, the MLC says.

Mr Baker adds: "And if you leave animals to recover, they can be carriers of the virus for more than a year afterwards, excreting the virus and infecting all the young stock following through.

"So stamping out the disease by slaughtering infected animals wins hands down, every time."

In addition to the welfare problems, the NFU and its Scottish counterpart point out that if the disease was allowed to become endemic in the UK, farmers could wave goodbye to international markets for their meat and livestock.

"Even if the vaccine works, animals develop antibodies which are detectable in their system for up to 18 months afterwards," says a Scottish NFU spokesman. "That would mean a loss of our countrys disease-free status and a loss of our export markets."

MLC figures show that the value of exports of meat and livestock from the UK topped £400m last year, about 10% of which came from sales to non-EU countries.

The EU outlawed the use of F and M vaccines in 1982. And although farm minister Nick Brown says he will continue to review all options, MAFF officials and government chief vet, Jim Scudamore, have made it clear that they believe vaccination is not an option. &#42

Sadly, slaughter is the only way to wipe out foot-and-mouth.