13 April 2001
Government considers vaccination
By Johann Tasker
AGRICULTURE minister Nick Brown is considering a vaccination programme against foot-and-mouth disease because slaughter targets are not being met.
In what would be a major development, Farmers Weekly understands that livestock around designated hot-spot farms would be vaccinated rather than culled.
The theory is that this would create a firewall of virtually immune animals which would then stop the disease from spreading to other farms.
The news comes as experts from Londons Imperial College School of Medicine warned that nearly a third of British farms could be infected with foot-and-mouth.
Writing in the journal Science, the experts claim that Mr Brown has failed to meet his target of culling animals next to infected holdings within 48 hours.
Unless the culling is stepped up, some 30% of British farms would eventually be hit by the epidemic, they warn. This would rise to 79% in areas like Cumbria.
Some 400,000 animal carcasses are on farms awaiting disposal. It is thought that a further 500,000 animals are waiting to be slaughtered.
But introducing vaccination would be controversial, effectively acknowledging that the governments policy of culling livestock has failed to control the disease.
Instead, the scientists recommend that the government steps up the cull so the government meets its target of killing sick animals within 24 hours.
Subsequent ring-culling over a 1.5 kilometre area within 48 hours would protect many more farms, the scientists argue.
Vaccination is likely to spell the end to any hopes that British meat and livestock exports banned since the epidemic began will resume for at least 12 months.
Ministers have faced mounting pressure to introduce vaccination since foot-and-mouth spread in recent days to areas previously free from the disease.
European vets gave the government permission last month to start vaccinating 180,000 dairy cattle in Devon and Cumbria in a bid to contain the epidemic.
Some 100,000 cattle in Cumbria and 80,000 cattle in Devon could be treated if Mr Brown now decides that a vaccine programme is the best way forward.
An announcement would be timely. Mr Brown would escape an immediate grilling from MPs on the subject because Parliament is in recess for Easter.
But farmers who have campaigned in favour of vaccination will want to know why Mr Brown has waited so long before bowing to their demands.
A Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) spokesman in Exeter confirmed to Farmers Weekly that livestock contractors have been on one-day vaccination courses.
The courses are part of the governments ongoing programme of preparation for various contingency plans, one of which involves vaccination, he said.
The training courses had been introduced so that MAFF was prepared for the eventuality that vaccination had to be adopted, the spokesman said.