Foot and mouth: vets on standby to vaccinate

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The Independent Online

Specially trained teams will be standing by from tomorrow ready to vaccinate livestock against foot and mouth. The move marks an extraordinary government U-turn from the last outbreak six years ago – and a victory for an Independent on Sunday campaign.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) last night decided to slaughter pigs suspected of having the disease on a farm close to the two infected sites at Egham, Surrey. There is particular concern about pigs catching foot and mouth, as they excrete large amounts of the virus.

The chief vet, Debby Reynolds, earlier announced a relaxation of controls on moving farm animals for slaughter – except within an area immediately around the latest sites. Ministers hope this will help farmers facing huge financial losses at the most important time of year for slaughtering.

Defra said yesterday that it had begun to mobilise the teams when the new outbreak was discovered last week, and that they would be ready for action tomorrow if a decision was taken to vaccinate.

During the 2001 crisis the Government resolutely resisted vaccination in favour of mass slaughter and closing the countryside. As a result six million animals were killed on 9,000 farms, even though few had the disease, at a cost of £8bn, while tourist businesses lost another £5.4bn.

The IoS campaigned almost single-handedly against both policies and for vaccination, though officials denounced its position as "nonsense", and Ben Gill, then president of the National Farmers' Union, dismissed the case for immunisation as "bilge".

Official inquiries vindicated us, and ministers are now legally obliged "to prepare all arrangements necessary for emergency vaccination" as soon as the disease is found.

Defra is carrying out an investigation into the latest site to be infected, Stroude Farm near Egham, after finding evidence that it had had the disease for 10 days. It says the farmer should have reported it, but it was found only through official animal health checks.