A massive, and perhaps global, animal vaccination programme should be considered once Britain's crisis of foot-and-mouth disease is over, experts said yesterday.
They warned that America, where farmers and administrators were "absolutely terrified" of the possible effects of a widespread outbreak, might be the next to fall victim to the disease.
Speaking at the British Association science festival, Fred Brown, a British professor and one of the world's leading foot-and-mouth experts, said he wanted to see the disease wiped off the face of the planet. Professor Brown, of the US Department of Agriculture's Plum Island Animal Disease Centre in New York, said: "I dream that we should get rid of this disease from the world."
Mark Woolhouse, a professor at Edinburgh University who is advising the Government on foot-and-mouth, said he believed culling rather than vaccination was the right policy to stamp out the British cases now. But, he added: "We should look very closely at [preventive] vaccination. The problem is that we live not just in a global village, but on a global farm. Diseases like foot-and-mouth can spread very rapidly where you don't expect them." The transport of animals meant the disease was all over Britain "before we even knew it was here".
Dave Rowlands, professor of viral microbiology at the University of Leeds, added his voice to calls for vaccination. He said: "I spoke to a vaccine manufacturer the other day who said that each dose of vaccine would cost a few tens of pence. And farmers could carry out the vaccinations they already do for other diseases."
He added: "Given that there's so much foot-and-mouth around the world, it's inevitable that it will be introduced to any susceptible that is, unvaccinated population. The US will get it eventually."
Professor Brown, a strong supporter of vaccination, said America was "frightened to death" of the possibility of foot-and-mouth emerging there. It last had an outbreak in the 1920s. "If it arrived at a cattle market in the US, by the time you knew the disease had occurred, the animals would be all over the place. They travel hundreds of miles in a day."
Vaccination is opposed by farmers as a way of controlling the British outbreak because it would take longer before exporters could guarantee their products were "disease-free". European countries used it as a preventive measure, which wiped out endemic problems until 1991, when Britain persuaded the European Union members to stop using it on the grounds of complexity there are four strains of foot-and-mouth and expense.
Those rules had changed, said Professor Brown. He said: "Governments should not be asking what they might do to deal with foot-and-mouth next time, but what they do next, right away."
Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and South Africa have all been hit by outbreaks in the past few years. "I think it's made everybody sit up when they've realised that the UK, a really developed country, can't deal with it," Professor Brown said.
Britain had never vaccinated, but Argentina and Uruguay had done so because of serious infections, Professor Brown said. "There has to be a real international debate about what to do about FMD [foot-and-mouth disease],"he added.
Professor Woolhouse said forecasting an end to the British outbreaks was impossible. "We're sitting on the disease, we're not driving it away like we were in April."Reuse content