The Soil Association has recently come out against the government’s policy on FMD. Here is the edited crux of the argument for an alternative put forward by Soil Association president Patrick Holford.
MAFF policy isn’t workingThe number of cases continues to increase, and the disease is more virulent and has a shorter incubation period than was initially anticipated
Due to a lack of suitable manpower and resources, the time lag between detection, slaughter and incineration of carcasses is exacerbating disease spread
It is likely that airborne spread allows transfer of the disease to farms further afield than the current ‘firebreak’ distance of 3 km
The current policy is having a devastating effect on the rural economy and is particularly affecting tourism
There is growing opposition to the policy of slaughtering healthy animals both among the public and within the farming community, many of whom consider it morally unacceptable
Increased nationwide livestock movements since 1967, with longer distances travelled to abattoirs coupled with a globalised food industry (risk of contamination entering the country), has led
to the rapid transmission of disease throughout the UK.
Alternatives to mass slaughter
Slaughter only the livestock showing clinical symptoms of disease, or those with known direct or indirect contact with the infection
Use vaccination to ‘damp down’ the spread of disease in infected areas
Use vaccination instead of slaughter in ‘firebreak’ zones
Maintain current restrictions on livestock movement to prevent the infection of new regions until policy is working effectively; review how livestock movements are regulated in the future
Allow vaccinated animals to enter the UK food chain.
Strengths of the plan
Can be introduced immediately (there are 500,000 vaccine stocks, enough for one million sheep)
More likely to prove effective than the government’s within a shorter timescale
Far less costly to implement (as most farmers are capable of administering inoculations)
‘Firebreak’ zones can be extended quickly and stock can be treated in situ
Confines need for slaughter to a much smaller number of animals, thus saving healthy animals on affected farms
Far more acceptable to public opinion and the farming community
Has proved effective in Albania and Macedonia in 1996 (eliminated disease in 12 and 3 weeks, respectively)
Current UK outbreak meets EU criteria for introduction of a vaccine control strategy.