Foot and mouth: vaccination the answer, says EU

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The Independent Online

Governments from across Europe are set to reject mass slaughter and instead endorse vaccinating livestock against foot and mouth.

European Union nations will meet this autumn to overhaul the rules on fighting the disease. They are almost certain to reject the culling and burning policies pursued by the British Government.

Belgium, which has just taken over the EU presidency, plans to announce the special meeting to agriculture ministers later this month. The moveis being pressed particularly strongly by the Netherlands – the European country most affected by the current epidemic after Britain – which successfully controlled its outbreak by immunisation.

It will mean a humiliation for Britain which not only invented the policy of mass slaughterbut successfully persuaded the rest of Europe 10 years ago to abandon vaccinating herds as a preventative measure.

Ministers continue to insist publicly that their policies have been right, although they have so far cost the taxpayer £2.5bn and done even more damage to tourism and industry, far outweighing the value of the meat export industry they set out to protect.

In fact, documents from the abolished Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food show that the Government was on the brink of introducing vaccination in the spring: it had teams ready and trained to carry it out and stocks of the vaccine distributed around the country. But the change of policy was blocked by farmers' leaders.

The Dutch had 26 cases of foot and mouth and slaughtered 265,000 animals but mainly controlled the epidemic by immunising all livestock around each outbreak.

There has been no case of foot and mouth in the Netherlands since 22 April, and the country resumed meat exports 10 days ago, giving the lie to the central claim here that vaccination would make exports impossible. Other disasters predicted in Britain – that vaccinated animals would pass on the disease and that consumers would refuse immunised meat – also failed to materialise.

As a result, the Dutch expect sales to be just 7.5 per cent below projections for the next two years, while Britain can see no end to the crisis.