FARMERS could vaccinate against foot and mouth disease to help avoid the traumatic scenes of mass slaughter 10 years ago.
A key conference in Edinburgh last week took stock of lessons learned and looked at controlling any future outbreaks.
Virologist Dr Peter Nettleton said: “Foot and Mouth vaccination is the modern alternative to mass slaughter. The use of vaccination to resolve the next outbreak could help to prevent the tragic scenes, social upheaval and psychological trauma that were witnessed 10 years ago.”
Talk at the event focused largely on vaccine – making and distributing it and administering it – to animals which could later enter the food chain.
But delegates also heard while vaccination could be a viable tool for protecting cattle it would be of less use in the sheep or pig industry.
NFU Scotland livestock committee chairman, Lilliesleaf farmer Rob Livesey said: “Vaccination has the potential to save high-value animals and those of high genetic merit but it looks as if it is only really going to be effective in beef and dairy herds.”
Sheep got more of the blame than they deserved for spreading the disease in 2001 (through markets before FMD was detected) he said but because sheep are farmed more extensively, they spread the virus less effectively.
Selkirk farmer and MSP, Jim Hume, who was vice-president of Lothian and Borders NFUS during the 2001 outbreak, warned: “We must ensure any vaccination scheme is clearly managed and approved by the European Union, to ensure there will be no barriers to trade our livestock if they are vaccinated.”
More than 100 representatives of farmers, auctioneers, food processors, retailers, scientists, consumers, pharmaceutical companies, vets, government and animal health attended the Foot and Mouth – Vaccine to Live debate at Moredun Research Institute last Tuesday.
The institute’s director Professor Julie Fitzpatrick said: “The threat of foot and mouth disease remains a serious one. Detailed pre-outbreak planning is essential to minimize the effects of what can be a devastating disease.”
She endorses recommendations made after the 2001 outbreak inquiry that contingency plans should include emergency ring vaccination alongside the slaughter of confirmed cases, because it would lead to many fewer animals being culled.
Breakout sessions saw delegates also discuss likely consumer reaction and the potential impact on exports.
NFU Scotland president, Stow farmer Nigel Miller said: “There is a real opportunity to build these innovations into our future contingency planning. But to make it work we need buy-in from farmers being prepared to vaccinate their animals, processors being prepared to handle meat and milk from vaccinated animals and consumers at home and across Europe being prepared to buy it.
“We must find a way to avoid the scenes of mass slaughter of 2001. The economic disruption caused by culling livestock from huge areas, and the scars that left on both individuals who were directly affected, and the wider countryside, is not something any of us want to see again. It is our duty as an industry to equip ourselves with the tools to ensure those scenes are not repeated.”
z Read more of Rob Livesey’s thoughts on vaccination in the Tweeddale Press’s farming review next week.