10 August 2001
Cull vets risk virus spread
By Alistair Driver
GOVERNMENT vets testing sheep for foot-and-mouth are breaching guidelines by failing to wear proper protective gear, according to video evidence.
Vets blood-testing sheep in the Brecon Beacons exposed their clothing to the virus by keeping overalls open and tying clothes around their waists.
Teams wore no head covering, face masks or gloves as they handled the animals they were testing for foot-and-mouth.
The infringements were seen in video evidence of testing on 27 July which has been obtained by FARMERS WEEKLY.
Leading international foot-and-mouth expert Professor Fred Brown of the Plum Island Animal Disease Centre in the USA branded the vets “foolish”.
They ignored basic measures to prevent cross contamination, he said. “The vets were foolish not to take these basic safety precautions.”
Ironically, this breach comes weeks after the government sent videos to more than 85,000 livestock farmers, setting out biosecurity precautions for producers.
British Veterinary Association vice-president Peter Jinman said exposing clothes risked spreading the disease if the garments were taken to another farm.
“Clothes can spread the virus when they have brushed against animals carrying the disease,” he said.
But the risk is less on farms being blood-tested for the disease than on farms where infected animals are being slaughtered.
Exposing hands and faces should not be a problem if the person washes properly before leaving the farm, he added.
Mr Jinman said evidence that masks should be worn to prevent the virus being carried in human throats is unclear.
A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 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 prerequisite and is normally a matter of common sense,” he said.
“We will happily follow and investigate any firm evidence of breaches of rules,” he said.
Stephen Rossides, head of food, health and science at the National Farmers Union, said it was essential everyone followed precautions to the letter.
The video was shot by John Dobson of the Foot and Mouth Group, which has attacked the governments handling of the crisis.
“It is completely hypocritical of the government to blame farmers for spreading foot-and-mouth when its own vets could be spreading the disease.”
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