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BBC News Why not vaccinate?
Subject: BBC News Why not vaccinate?
Goverment said vaccination would not help!
Date: Thu, 26 Apr 2001 23:15:26 -0700

More on the Foot-and-Mouth disease fiasco in England.....

Q&A: Why not vaccinate?

As the UK Government seeks to persuade farmers to allow vaccination of some animals against foot-and-mouth disease, BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby weighs the arguments: What could vaccination achieve?

It would be used, not as an alternative to the present mass slaughter policy, but to supplement it. Vaccinating cattle emerging from their indoor winter quarters could limit the spread of the disease. It would almost certainly be used only in the worst-hit areas, Cumbria and Devon, and for rare breeds and pedigree animals.

What are the arguments against vaccination?

It takes four days to work, and even then may not be completely effective. Vaccinated animals can still carry the virus and pass it on, without showing any symptoms. There would be a marked effect on UK exports: some could continue, but British meat would be barred from the US, and vaccinated British animals could not be exported there or to Japan. Total meat and livestock exports amount to about �310m ($460m) a year.

Could people safely eat the meat of vaccinated animals and drink their milk?

Yes. Foot-and-mouth disease is not a risk to human health. In many other countries meat and milk from vaccinated animals are routinely consumed. The Food Standards Agency says: "Millions of doses of vaccine have been given world-wide with no adverse effects on human health. Foot-and-mouth disease vaccines are widely used throughout the developing world in parts of Africa, South America and Central America. If people go abroad on holiday to countries where the vaccine is routinely used and eat meat, that meat has probably been vaccinated and has never been shown to cause any human health problems. In mainland Europe (including the Netherlands, France, West Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Switzerland), people were drinking milk and eating meat from animals vaccinated against the disease up until 1991." The FSA told BBC News Online: "There is no evidence of any consumer resistance in countries which routinely use vaccination."

Could vaccination prevent future outbreaks?

No. There are several strains of foot-and-mouth, and vaccines work against only one strain of the virus. Anyway, animals need booster shots every six months or so. And the UK would not be able to regain its "foot-and-mouth free" export status while vaccination continued.

What do farmers think about vaccination?

Many are understandably confused. Early on in the outbreak the Agriculture Minister, Nick Brown, said that using vaccination would be a "substantial retreat". The government argued until recently - largely from concern over lost export markets - that vaccination would not help.

Now, though, it says there is a scientific case for selective vaccination. The National Farmers' Union has asked ministers a long list of questions on the proposed policy switch. They include:

What has changed from the time several weeks ago when the government said vaccination was not the best route? Will vaccination prolong the outbreak? How can you prove that foot-and-mouth has been eliminated from a vaccinated area when treated cattle will have antibodies to the disease? Does the government have the resources to run a vaccination programme without slowing down the mass slaughter? Will food processors and retailers buy meat and milk from vaccinated animals, and if they do not, will the government buy them in? The NFU president, Ben Gill, said: "These are not simply economic concerns, as some have suggested.

"There is a real possibility that the use of vaccination could actually prolong this outbreak, resulting in the culling of more cattle rather than less. This has happened elsewhere in the world.

"Once we go down this road there will be no going back. And it is farmers throughout the UK - not just in vaccinated areas and not only cattle farmers - who will have to bear the consequences for a very long time to come."