Question 1. Do you consider that the criteria, as set out in Annex A, give a clear indication of the key factors that will be taken into account when decisions on whether to slaughter are taken?
Answer: Key criteria - 2. "As is already the case with measures to control the spread of disease, the Government is committed to using the new slaughter powers in the Animal Health Bill only where this is justified by the circumstances and on the basis of sound veterinary, epidemiological and scientific advice." Unfortunately for the government, and most tragically for all concerned, this was most definitely NOT the case during the 2001 FMD epidemic. The slaughter policy then employed was based upon the unproven epidemiological concept of contiguous culling, supported only by speculative computer modelling techniques without peer review and against the established concensus view of veterinary science expertise in FMD control.
The government therefore first needs to understand that it has comprehensively destroyed all trust of its integrity in such matters among the electorate, and in particular among the farming community.
Accordingly, the ONLY acceptable protocol will be one which is clearly seen as genuinely independent of political influence, and which is equally clearly based upon veterinary scientific expertise in FMD (or other relevant disease). It is wholly unacceptable that epidemiology, or any other scientific discipline, should over-ride veterinary judgement.
Control of policy during an outbreak should therefore lie NOT with the Chief Scientific Officer, nor the Prime Minister, but with the Chief Veterinary Officer heading an advisory panel drawn from a range of scientific disciplines, but whose majority have appropriate expertise in veterinary science and virology.
Unless this is seen to be the case, the government will be faced with civil disobedience on a huge scale against any future attempt at mass slaughter. The whole rural community will simply refuse to accept it, ever again.
Question 2. Do you think that any of the criteria listed are irrelevant, or that we may have omitted any criteria that should be included?
Answer: Most of the criteria listed are indeed irrelevant, while the only criteria that IS relevant has been omitted - that is, whether or not an animal actually has the disease. If it does not, there is no justification for slaughter. Susceptibility to a disease is NOT, in itself, a sufficient reason for slaughter in veterinary terms.
The protocol therefore needs to set out the confirmatory procedures to determine the prescence of active disease in animals before slaughter can be authorised. These may include clinical signs for livestock species where these are clear and unambiguous (e.g. cattle) but for all other species these will rely upon confirmation by scientific test results, either at the penside/farm gate or laboratory as appropriate. No other authorisation for slaughter is acceptable. Note also that "active" disease means animals that are infected by live virus at the moment of diagnosis; once the infection has passed, the level of antibodies that remains is not justification for slaughter, and only supplies epidemiological evidence of past disease.
Another key criteria is that, as effective vaccines do clearly exist, there must be a presumption in favour of vaccination for disease control. Only in special circumstances, where vaccination can be clearly shown to be unsuitable on veterinary grounds, would limited slaughter then be considered.
Again, it must be stressed that unless these criteria are seen to be applied, the government will be faced with civil disobedience against any future attempt at mass slaughter. The whole rural community will simply refuse to accept it, ever again.
Question 3. Do you agree that the slaughter notices (see Annex B) will provide sufficient information to make clear to the owner of the stock the reasons for slaughter and their basis in the published criteria?
Answer: No. As detailed above the only acceptable criteria for slaughter are either:
1) clear and unambiguous clinical signs (in cattle and pigs); or
2) scientific test results confirming the prescence of active disease in all other species or where 1) does not apply
Therefore, the wording of the slaughter notice must be changed to properly reflect this protocol. No other protocol will be accepted by the farming community.
Question 4. In your opinion, does the proposal for the senior vet review of a decision to slaughter represent a reasonable procedure for dealing with such cases?
Answer: No. "the person will make his decision in the light of the risks that he believes to be present, including the risks that would arise from significant delay; the Government will continue to work to a target of slaughter within 24 or 48 hours, and this will be borne in mind during the deliberations."
Experience during the 2001 epidemic showed that the political policy of contiguous slaughter was applied by DVM's as sole justification for slaughter. Our own "appeal" was refused by letter "because your premises are adjudged contiguous to an infected premises" with no attempt made at risk assessment or farm visit. The above paragraph clearly shows that this presumption will continue and that the DVM will consider the appeal not on veterinary grounds, but on the orders of his political masters. This is contemptible and is in clear breach of the veterinary professional code of conduct.
With scientific testing established as the protocol, the appeals procedure will become largely unnecessary; but in cases where appeal is still required, the DVM must make his judgement on solely veterinary grounds - that is his area of professional expertise and he must not be constrained by other outside influences. Furthermore, no appeal can be properly considered without:
1) a site visit by the DVM in person or his appointed representative (who must be independent of the Veterinary Inspector)
2) the opportunity for the livestock owner to present his case personally to the DVM
3) an obligation for the DVM to take local factors of geography, seperation, farm size, species mix, biosecurity etc. into proper account when assessing risk
4) a valid reason why diagnostic test results showing active infection are not the sole arbiter in the case under appeal
Finally, the existing right of appeal to the High Court in cases of dispute must remain. The proposed enforcement of slaughter by magistrate's warrant may take place without opportunity for the livestock owner to be represented, and without him even knowing that the process is taking place. The first that he may know of it is when a slaughter team arrive at his premises, armed with an enforcement warrant and accompanied by police officers, to kill his stock.
This is beneath contempt, is in clear breach of human rights both moral and legal, and is totally unacceptable. Again, we warn you of widespread civil disobedience in the face of such outrage.
Question 5. Are the criteria, as set out in Annex C, readily understandable? Do you agree that the criteria are indicative of poor biosecurity practice? Do you have a view on the weighting (%) attached to each breach of biosecurity?
Answer: No. No. No. It is extraordinary that no reference is made here to the many and varied breaches of biosecurity by DEFRA personnel, contractors, vets, army, police etc during the 2001 epidemic. A considerable weight of evidence shows that disease was spread to healthy farms by such breaches. Is it then reasonable to expect farmers to carry the full weight of responsibility for biosecurity?
We think not. Let us see the rules and penalties proposed for DEFRA staff, vets, contractors, army, police etc alongside any such proposals for farmers.
Question 6. In your opinion, does the procedure outlined below, and reflected in Annex D, represent a reasonable procedure for administering appeals?
Answer: No. There should be NO fee charged under any circumstances.
Please acknowledge receipt of this submission.
Alan & Rosie Beat (smallholders with sheep)
The Bridge Mill, Bridgerule, Holsworthy, Devon EX22 7EL