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Dr Alex Donaldson of the Pirbright Laboratory
"The culling policy may have been excessive"
 real 28k

Prof David King and Anthony Gibson
discuss Dr Donaldson's comments
 real 28k

Thursday, 17 May, 2001, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
Doubts raised over slaughter policy
Culled sheep being buried
More than 2.5m animals have been slaughtered
A leading expert on foot-and-mouth disease has questioned the scientific basis for the huge slaughter programme to tackle the crisis in the UK.

Dr Alex Donaldson, head of the Pirbright Laboratory at the Institute for Animal Health, suggests that predictions for the airborne spread of the virus may have been overestimated.

Foot-and-mouth facts
Total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the UK 1,607 - 3 on Wednesday
2,768,000 animals slaughtered
90,000 animals awaiting slaughter
36,000 carcasses awaiting disposal
Hundreds of thousands of apparently healthy animals have been slaughtered under Ministry of Agriculture "contiguous culling" rules on farms surrounding a confirmed case.

But the UK Government's chief scientific adviser, Professor David King, said the analysis on which the mass slaughter was based took into account all the ways in which the disease could spread.

The latest development follows suggestions from a farmer's group that culling was paced to eliminate foot-and-mouth disease before the general election - an allegation refuted by Maff.

'Low risk'

Dr Donaldson, who is a member of the government's foot-and-mouth advisory team, published his research findings in the Veterinary Record journal.

He told the BBC: "We feel that with the results we've got, the probability of spread on the wind from cattle and sheep on infected premises was very low."

Sheep at Mossburn animal sanctuary in Scotland
Some livestock have been reprieved after legal battles
It was unlikely that infected sheep and cattle would transmit the virus more than 1 kilometre, and in most cases it would probably be only about 200 metres, he said.

Only in the case of pigs, he said, was there greater need for caution, while the government's decision to order a policy of mass slaughter had been made after studying mathematical models which "oversimplified" forecasts for the disease.

A judgement would have to be made as to whether the culling policy was "justified or over the top" he added.

"I think there are some pointers which would suggest to me that it may have been excessive."

But Prof King told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the early forecasts of how the disease would spread, made by analysing the first outbreaks, had been "remarkably accurate".


The policy was implemented at the point at which the outbreak was out of control and it has worked

Prof David King
It was these statistical models on which the mass slaughter policy was based, he said.

"There is a multiplicity of routes of infection - airborne is just one and that is the only route which Dr Donaldson is dealing with in his paper."

Legal action

He continued: "Analysis of the outbreak shows that where contiguous cull did not take place, there were still infected premises developing.

"Very simply, the proof is in the pudding - the policy was implemented at the point at which the outbreak was out of control and it has worked."

But Anthony Gibson, from the south west branch of the National Farmers' Union, called Dr Donaldson's findings "an appalling indictment of a dreadful policy".

"It is clear that unless animals were within 100 m or 200 m of infected animals, they were at no risk.

"We have hundreds of thousands of animals being slaughtered unnecessarily, untold human anguish has been caused, hundreds of millions of pounds of public expenditure has been made. It could never possibly be justified."

A number of farmers were planning to take legal action against Maff, Mr Gibson said.

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