Vaccinating cattle would be a leap of faith too far, say farmers' leaders

Policy
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Farmers' leaders were blocking government plans yesterday to vaccinate cattle in the country's two worst foot-and-mouth hotspots.



Farmers' leaders were blocking government plans yesterday to vaccinate cattle in the country's two worst foot-and-mouth hotspots.

Ministers, who have been edging towards inoculating dairy cows in Devon and Cumbria to create a firewall against the spread of the disease, have won agreement from major supermarkets to stock milk products from vaccinated animals. But the Government admitted it could not press ahead with mass vaccinations until it had won over the National Farmers' Union to the change of policy.

Ben Gill, the NFU president, repeated its resistance to mass vaccination until the Government had answered a series of questions over its implications. He said: "Farmers are effectively being asked to take a leap of faith. The use of vaccination could have long-term, damaging consequences.

"There is a possibility it could actually spark more outbreaks and it is highly likely that it will delay the resumption of exports considerably."

Pressure is piling on the Government to take a speedy decision on vaccination as many farmers will move animals out of their winter quarters by the end of the month.

A Downing Street spokesman said the Government accepted "in principle" advice from its chief veterinary officer, Jim Scudamore, and Professor David King, chief scientific adviser, that a very limited programme of vaccination was justified. But the experts cautioned ministers that it would be effective only if farmers supported it. The spokesman said: "It is quite clear from the discussions so far that the support from farmers is not currently there, and that the farming community as a whole is deeply divided on the issue."

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) insisted the present policy of mass culling was beginning to pay dividends with the number of new foot-and-mouth cases continuing to fall.

Tim Yeo, the shadow Agriculture Minister, said: "I understand the decision to vaccinate is a very complicated issue. However, the Government said they would make a decision on this some 18 days ago. The countryside needs decisive action now."

Supermarkets including Sainsbury's and Tesco have agreed to carry milk and milk products derived from vaccinated cattle provided they were given scientific proof of safety. Sir John Krebs, chairman of the Food Standards Agency, revealed he had advised Maff that meat and dairy products from vaccinated livestock could safely enter the food chain with no harmful effect.

Comments