SIR - The decision to control foot and mouth disease by culling rather than vaccination has resulted in the needless slaughter of millions of animals.
Particular and serious damage has been inflicted on endangered breeds. Some, such as the Herdwick in the Lake District and Rough Fell on the Howgill Fells, have lost more than one third of their population. Among breeds of high performance, the British Milksheep has lost half of its population, while numerically scarce breeds, such as Hill Radnor sheep and Belted Galloway cattle, have had losses of 25 to 30 per cent. All these are recognised by Rare Breeds International as of special genetic importance, and a vital part of the biodiversity of Britain.
The Animal Health Bill now presents a threat to the livestock industry that could exceed even the mass slaughter policy applied to control foot and mouth. It gives the Government almost unlimited powers of slaughter in the event of another outbreak of foot and mouth, and is also likely to be directed at sheep susceptible to scrapie, a condition that has existed for hundreds of years with no adverse effects on human health.
Application of the powers in the Bill could result in the extinction of some breeds. Some, including the very distinctive and important Northern Short-Tailed group of breeds, have genotypes that would condemn them to total slaughter. The inclusion in the Bill of references to "exceptional circumstances", which might be applied to save some breeds, is not an adequate safeguard.
The threat posed by the Bill is in direct conflict with the Convention of Biological Diversity, to which the British Government was a signatory. The Bill is based on unsafe science: the genetics of scrapie resistance are not properly understood, and selection against scrapie is likely to eliminate other valuable characteristics. We are faced with a Bill that threatens important native breeds and the genetic diversity of our national livestock by the political application of bad science. It must be resisted.
Rare Breeds International
SIR - At the beginning of this year, the veterinary profession was unique among professions in Britain in that it was universally respected, and indeed held in affection by many people.
The outbreak of foot and mouth disease dented that reputation, as we were seen to side with the Ministry of Agriculture in the unprecedented slaughter of farm animals.
What we should have done was refuse co-operation when the Government took control of the outbreak out of the hands of veterinary surgeons and handed it to a Crazy Gang of scientists and computer modellers who were not specialists in animal disease. With a glance at their computer screens, they condemned to death millions of animals.
The new Animal Health Bill amendment will make matters worse. It will give the incompetent Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs the opportunity to hide its mistakes in a sea of blood.
This Bill removes from farmers the right to resist the slaughter of their healthy animals; makes criminals of people whose only fault is their love of their animals; and allows officials to decide that genetic make-up is sufficient reason to condemn normal healthy animals to death.
This Bill will result in a withdrawal of co-operation by the farming community and make the control of animal disease impossible. Here is one vet who will have nothing to do with it. If it is passed, I will do everything in my power to stop the veterinary profession from taking any part in its implementation.