17 August 2001

Vets breach F&Mrules in

video of blood testing

By Alistair Driver

GOVERNMENT officials have been accused of breaching guidelines designed to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.

Video evidence of blood testing of sheep in the Brecon Beacons on July 27 has been presented to FARMERS WEEKLY. It shows the vets clothes were fully exposed to the sheep while some kept their overalls open and others tied clothes around their waist.

The vet teams wore no head covering, face masks or gloves as they handled the animals they were testing for F&M.

One of the worlds leading F&M experts, Professor Fred Brown, based at the Plum Island Animal Disease Centre in the USA, said the vets were ignoring basic measures to prevent cross contamination. "The vets were foolish not to take these basic safety precautions," he said.

A DEFRA spokesman confirmed that the vets could have breached the rules. "While there is generally no requirement for workers to wear masks and hair covering, they are normally required to wear gloves. This is not an absolute pre-requisite and is normally a matter of common sense," he said.

"We will happily follow and investigate any firm evidence of breaches of the rules," he said.

British Veterinary Association vice-president Peter Jinman said exposing clothes to the virus does risk spreading the disease if the same clothes are taken to another farm.

"Clothes can spread the virus when they have brushed against animals carrying the disease," he said.

The risk is less, however, on farms being blood tested for the disease than on farms where infected animals are being slaughtered.

He said exposing hands and faces should not be a problem if the person washes themselves properly before leaving the farm. He said evidence that masks should be worn to prevent the virus being carried in human throats is unclear.

The NFU said it could not comment on this individual case. But Stephen Rossides, union head of food, health and science.

"If there is clear evidence that anyone dealing with foot-and-mouth, including vets, are not following biosecurity measures then this is a serious matter. Everyone must take the necessary precautions."

The video was shot by John Dobson, who said: "It is completely hypocritical of the government to blame farmers for spreading F&M when its own vets could be spreading the disease themselves." &#42

Mr Dobson is a member of the Foot and Mouth Group which includes farmers scientists and vets and has been attacking the governments F&M policy, including its failure to vaccinate.

Mr Dobson has written to Prime Minister Tony Blair outlining the mistakes the government has made over the course of the epidemic. It says blame is wrongly being passed on to farmers for bad biosecurity, illegal movement and deliberately infecting their animals while DEFRA are the real culprits.

It also alleges that animals are being killed inhumanely and that farmers are being intimidated.