Foot and Mouth Disease

Reports suggest that Foot and Mouth Disease has been known for some 2000 years but the evidence for its existence has only been available since the 17th and 18th centuries. It was apparently first seen in England in 1839 and spread throughout Britain with 11 more outbreaks from 1839 to 1902 but each outbreak was stamped out as it occurred.
Re-infection always came from outside of the UK, exactly as has happened on this occasion - we assume.
The USA had its first outbreak in 1870, again via imports from Britain through Canada and other outbreaks followed in 1880 and 1884 again caused by imported livestock which was then banned. This did not stop the disease reaching the USA as further outbreaks occurred in 1902, 1914 and 1924 as the result of the import of contaminated hay and other materials but perhaps more importantly as the result of contaminated imported smallpox vaccine.

Our officials told us that there are 17 different strains of the virus but this seems to be only part of the story.
Without potential stocks of genetically engineered weapons grade virus there were over 140 different strains held by Wellcome in 1973 with 33 different sub-types.
Apparently the virus is the smallest known, about 10,000 times smaller than the smallpox virus but like all viruses it needs living tissue in order to multiply.
"No cross-immunity is exhibited between types, and only partial cross-immunity between sub-types within a type." is the phrase used and the immunity afforded by a vaccine only lasts for 6 months.
This view is supported in information found in the Encyclopedia Britannica (1956 issue) which even then recognised the complexity of the disease and suggested that there were at least 6 different known types of the virus and that recovery from the virus did not provide permanent resistance even to that strain and none at all to all the other types. At that time immunisation was said to provide protection only to the specific type, but not necessarily to variants within that type, for just 4 months, while recovered animals were susceptible after a year.
Diagnosis of type was said to be important and was an expensive procedure until 1952 when Pirbright announced a test to determine type which took only a few hours. However they state that there are recorded instances where a virulent variant overcame the protection of a vaccine of the same type.
Blackís Veterinary Dictionary 1979 reported that there were 7 known types which were recognised at that time.
Three were known to have caused outbreaks in Britain, O, A and C while four others, Asia, Sat 1, Sat 2 and Sat 3 were then confined to Asia and Africa. Apparently the sub-type O1 was responsible for the 1967-1968 outbreak in the UK and an outbreak in 1966 was caused by the A22 type virus.

There has been much discussion over the real harm caused by Foot and Mouth Disease and some commentators seem to describe the effects as "little more than a common cold". In the 1963 publication "Farming", published by Caxton, Volume 2, page 629, a general view of the symptoms following inhalation of the virus describes lameness, infection of diverse organs due to the circulation of virus in the blood stream, the formation of separate infections within the same animal by different virus types, high temperatures, blisters, and in pigs the feet may be severely affected causing the hooves to frequently fall off, causing great pain. The condition in sheep resembles foot-rot from which it must first be distinguished.
Both publications mentioned above refer to the mortality rate as generally below 5% in adults but this may rise to 50% in young stock and with "malignant forms of the disease". "In those animals which survive, great losses in weight occur because the animals cannot eat. In surviving milk animals the flow is sharply diminished. Abortions and mastitis are common. Secondary infections are frequent, especially about the feet."

Reports that the disease may not have been so serious may arise from the difficulty in diagnosis in the days before science "progressed". There are two other vesicular diseases which may appear similar to Foot and Mouth Disease. They are vesicular stomatitis and vesicular exanthema. Animal tests were used to determine which virus was present. Horses do not suffer with Foot and Mouth Disease. Cows and guinea pigs do not suffer from vesicular exanthema but pigs apparently do and mild forms occur in horses but vesicular stomatitis can affect all four. If the symptoms occurred only in sheep, pigs and cattle then foot and mouth would be a suitable diagnosis as the other viruses would likely have also affected different species.
Diagnosis is obviously not as easy as some would suggest and so reports that animals overcome the disease without lasting effects may stem from incorrect diagnosis of the virus concerned. However there is recent evidence that sheep in the UK have lived through the infection with apparently no lasting effects. In fact it was reported that sheep which had been exposed to the disease had been exported from the UK to France before the officially recognised date of the first case. However, there is no information on the losses sustained or any details of how they came to carry the antibodies. They may not have been present as the result of direct infection.
There is a prevailing attitude amongst some modern scientists that they should treat the symptoms without first determining the cause. We have found this exact approach with the victims of organophosphorus poisoning with disastrous results and a similar attitude is exhibited by those who suggest that the treatable symptoms of magnesium deficiency indicate a diagnosis of the untreatable and fatal condition BSE.
Such attitudes represent neither sound science nor good medicine and can, and do, lead to disaster.

Foot and Mouth disease almost always appears suddenly and spreads rapidly, entering the blood stream of the infected animal causing fever and being excreted in saliva, milk, urine and faeces after 24 to 36 hours - usually before the symptoms of the disease become apparent. The majority of animals show symptoms between the 2nd and 6th day following infection but lesions can take 10 days to appear in pigs and up to 5 in cattle and sheep with an average of half that time. The blisters are reported to burst, releasing highly infective yellowish serum, leaving raw areas beneath which disappear after about 6 days but the animal refuses dry food due to the pain and is able only to drink and eat very soft foods.

The virus can survive out of the host for a very long time. Reports suggest that it can remain active in hay for 30 days, in the frozen bone marrow of stored beef and pork for up to 76 days, and in frozen liver or kidney for 4 months or more which is why the rules on heating pig swill insisted on ensuring that the material was heat treated by boiling for at least an hour before feeding to livestock. It is reported that Foot and Mouth can survive for up to six months in dried meats. The virus is resistant to many standard disinfectants.

Since the virus may be inhaled it is clear that it can be spread by air movement but there seems to be no evidence of how far such diseases can be spread by the wind.
The 1981 outbreak on the Isle of Wight was said to be brought on the wind from vaccinated animals in France but there is no real evidence for this. Strangely, given the current appeals for the use of vaccines, it was said that this French outbreak, which spread to the Channel Islands was the result of contaminated vaccines.
There is a doubt over where the virus came from and how it got to the Isle of Wight in 1981. The winds were blowing towards France until the 18th March that year when they reached gale force from the West and then moderated to south west by the 20th March.
The first word that Foot and Mouth was suspected came on the 21st and followed reported outbreaks in France and the Channel Islands. By the 22nd Foot and Mouth was confirmed and 166 cattle were slaughtered along with 240 on nearby farms but the Ministry vets had no contact with farmers in the risk area until 25th March. By the 5th April suspect cases were reported in the biggest dairy herd on the Island and another some 5 miles away but they were not confirmed. The all clear was sounded but the claim that this was carried on the wind was never really accepted by the locals. To reach that farm from France the virus would have passed over several large herds of cattle and flocks of sheep at higher levels and in more direct line than the infected herd. It seemed unlikely.
Recently a contact with both the farm and other sources was told that the disease was brought in on a boat by drug smugglers who had travelled from Algeria. The farm was near a beach often used by yachtsmen so this seems a real possibility but locals were never informed of the real source of the disease.

Examination of the recent UK outbreak does not support cases within the plumes of the prevailing wind said to carry the disease. In fact it would seem that there have been more cases in areas such as Devon, Cumbria and Wales than has been seen around the proclaimed source farm. This disease was reported first in pigs which are admitted to produce and release vast quantities of the virus and yet the most affected animals in the cull appear to be sheep reared in areas well away from that region. In fact one of the early suspected cases was again on the Isle of Wight and again on a pig farm. Despite the restrictions placed on the farm and the need for the two farming brothers involved to find alternative employment in order to survive there was no sign of disease on those premises.

The Ministry denied that the fires which lift infected material high into the air can spread the disease although this was suspected as a spread vector in the 1967 outbreak. What we see today is a spreading mechanism consistent with the action of predatory animals and birds which feed on the unburied carcasses and move on to uninfected farms carrying the disease with them. Hides, hair, wool, hay, straw, sacks, clothing, milk, manure, cats, dogs, rabbits, rats, mice, birds (also migratory and especially those which feed on carrion), streams and vehicles can also transit the disease. The movements of all these can explain the current spread pattern.

It would appear that there is much evidence to support the Foot and Mouth Disease as being a virus and although claims are now made that no virus has ever been isolated it was reported in 1973 that 120 strains of the virus had been adapted for growth in baby hamster kidney cells (BHK21). Although the ELISA tests and other methods of testing for proteins have thrown up false positives and false negatives it would appear to be unrelated to Foot and Mouth research. Critics quote the failure of such tests in BSE and Aids research but BSE is not a conventional virus and there is therefore no comparison. It would seem that those who claim that the disease is not a virus but a nutritional disorder caused by bad farming practices are wrong.
The rules imposed on the veterinary specialists who have to deal with the virus outbreak add further weight to this since they must refrain from visiting uncontaminated farms for some days after working on infected animals. This is because the human nose can harbour the virus for up to 48 hours and although the host is unaffected that virus could be transmitted to healthy animals.

The risk from contaminated vaccines is apparently very real - and not only from the Foot and Mouth but from other potential contaminants in the vaccine itself.

The fact that vaccinated animals were even suspected as carriers of the disease responsible for outbreaks in France seems to suggest that the disease is a very virulent virus which can behave in a similar manner to polio, which can itself also be caused by the polio vaccines. Carriers can appear to be free of the disease and yet transmit it to others which is another reason why there are vaccination risks.

It was claimed in 1973 that the cost of compensation for slaughter was actually cheaper than a vaccination programme. The relative values of vaccines and compensation costs may well have altered beyond recognition since those days but it is clear that meat can transmit the infection which is why there are restrictions on the import of meat from countries where vaccination is practiced into countries free of the disease. In the recent swine fever outbreak in the UK it was found that the disease may well have started with a discarded sandwich.
Concerns have been expressed recently that diseases such as Ebola, TB, polio and yellow fever could be entering the UK daily through the illegal smuggling of meat from Africa in order to supply the tastes of ethnic groups.
It would seem that some suitcases drip with the blood from the illegal meat and yet customs officers allow it through. As it is clear that even the living animal may be infected before signs of the disease can be seen much of this meat could contain dangerous diseases. Other countries including the USA and Germany are far more strict in their efforts to protect the health of their people.

The theories as to how the current UK outbreak began are numerous. It would be too easy to say that the disease is due entirely to bad farming practices. This cannot be the case because the disease was not normally found in the UK. The cause of the disease must lie in the practice of importing infected material from overseas. In other words it is Government policy which caused the outbreak either directly through allowing imports or indirectly by not ensuring that import restrictions were enforced by sufficiently staffed and managed customs checks and quality controls.

This is not to say that the farming practices employed in the UK have not made the otherwise controllable outbreak a major disaster. The movement of animals, unregulated transfer from owner to owner, the reduced number of slaughter houses which force ever larger transport lorries and collections from numerous farms on a single journey, larger livestock units, shared farm staff and machines, and imported meats, are all designed to encourage rampant disease spread as proven by the current crisis.
The refusal of MAFF to listen to the warnings given to them years ago and the ever more nonsensical orders from Europe, embraced by our Civil Service, set up the UK for this disaster.

Worse than that is the apparently incompetent way in which the control methods were implemented in the early weeks.
We have seen television pictures of animals chased by slaughtermen with rifles as if they were taking part in some Wild West show. The frightened animals were wounded but still running as the "rifleman" chased them around the fields with the other animals in the flock watching in fear.
No one knows if these people were trained "marksmen" or if the usual restrictions on ammunition use and possession have been applied but many farmers have been threatened with prison for lesser offences both in terms of firearms regulation and cruelty to animals.
A worrying aspect of all this is the culling of healthy animals on suspicion and the effects on the surrounding farms which are then placed under restrictions and suspicion. It would seem that even when the original farms have been proven to be free of the disease the restrictions on the surrounding farms remain in place as if the presence of the virus had been confirmed.
Movement restrictions intended to halt the spread of the disease have caused real suffering to animals and farmers alike and we have witnesses terrible scenes of suffering and death in reality and on our television screens.
It is intriguing that the animal rights organisations appear to have been so quiet on this issue, although one was reported as suggesting that this was a good thing for the animals as it freed them from the life they "suffered" at the hands of the farmers. What they fail to realise is that were it not for the farmers there would be no need to breed the animals in the first place and they would have had no life at all. It seems that sometimes every problem seen in the countryside is blamed on the farmer and yet all of us depend on farmers somewhere in the world for the very food we need to survive.

Diseased stock left standing for a week or more was a recipe for further spread of any infectious disease. To kill those infected animals and leave them to rot at the mercy of the predatory animals and birds known to spread the disease which will wander or fly for miles around the countryside seems guaranteed to ensure disaster.
To kill healthy animals in order to create a "fire break" effect around the areas of most contamination will be pointless unless all the flighted carriers are also destroyed and the bodies of the dead disposed of more rapidly.
If this were not bad enough the Government allowed diseased animals to be carted by lorries leaking body fluids into previously uninfected areas. The wheels from countless vehicles picking up the infected fluids will have transported the virus far and wide but all protests were ignored.
Of mounting concern are the reports that body fluids from the animals buried in the mass graves have contaminated streams, rivers and even the drinking water supply. One radio report suggested that tape worms were to be seen floating down-stream from the burial sites. Another that blood from another site was to be seen flowing across a main road. An horrific situation in respect to controlling the virus and yet the officials claimed that the virus dies with the animal and that such problems therefore presented no risk.
Fearing even greater financial losses in the economy the Government then proclaimed that the countryside was "open to visitors" despite knowing very well that vehicles and tourists on foot can spread the disease. All actions taken seemed determined not to contain but to spread the virus.

How the government of the UK can justify destroying the meat from healthy animals when at the same time they continue to import meat from potentially infected areas of the world is something that few will understand since it is clearly the import of such meat which has caused the problem on many occasions in the past.
Meanwhile the fires continued to burn at massive cost to the tax-payer. One fire alone reportedly required some 290 tonnes of coal, countless sleepers and tonnes of straw with diesel oil to assist the fire and hours contracted to vets, slaughtermen, digging machinery, and disinfecting teams.

When concerns were raised that the chemicals released by the fires could endanger human health the Government began the massive burial process. Some sites were badly chosen and the dead animals, now rotting, had to be exhumed and reburied elsewhere, again carting them across country in leaking lorries. The final cost of replacing the lost stock, the destroyed meat, hides and wool, bankruptcy hearings, the compensation to farmers and the losses to other industries dependent on the countryside will be simply enormous and yet the Government suggested that there was no crisis.
Despite having spent somewhere near the same amount of money on the Foot and Mouth outbreak as has been spent on the temporary Millennium Dome structure in London the Government appears to have suddenly realised how much it will spend and has recently stopped the disinfection work. No longer will the contaminated hairs and wool on the fences be burnt off, the potentially contaminated silage, hay, straw and manure destroyed or the thorough disinfectant processes performed. The infection will inevitably spread via the wildlife and the movement of people just as before and when the prayed for heat of summer is over the virus is likely to be back with a vengeance.
What price the cuts in spending then?

Apparently the word "deliberate" was used to describe the start of this outbreak by a government minister. Some suggest that animal rights activists hoping to turn us all towards vegetarianism were responsible, others that it was Sadamís revenge. Others wonder if, as with brucellosis, E,coli and anthrax, the MoD has been out and about spraying disease over their countrymen again - and there is some evidence to suggest that this may be the case. There is for example the report that a phial of the virus disappeared from the biological warfare centre at Porton Down and other reports suggest that a similar phial disappeared from a laboratory in Cumbria. Porton Down denies ever having held the virus but this seems unlikely since it has been reported that Foot and Mouth has "been taken very seriously as a possible weapon since the 1940s" and the purpose of the unit was and is to study all the potential threats to the country.

Others suggest that experiments were being performed on the MIR space station which involved the Foot an Mouth virus and that they were jettisoned in the hope that the virus would be destroyed on re-entry to avoid risks should the landing go wrong - and some say that the timing of the outbreaks and the trajectory fit with that theory.
Yet another theory suggests that the outbreak is a means to ensure the culling of scrapie sheep and BSE cattle which the farmers would never have permitted with disease other than Foot and Mouth. This has gained recent support with the suggestion that the country should take advantage of the Foot and Mouth crisis as a means to remove the scrapie carrying sheep from the national flock.
Another theory suggests that the CIA were attempting to open up the European market to the hormone injected and GM fed beef from their antibiotic dependent feed lots of the US by destroying the opposition. An advantage to that theory is that Europe would then have to accept the GM foods it has so far been able to keep out. Following the money and the way that multi-national companies work also indicates that if there is an uncontrollable outbreak in Europe then there may be a cry for vaccination to be employed. This would be a very lucrative sales opportunity for the drug companies but some theorists suggest that the vaccinations or other contaminated drugs may themselves have caused the disease.

If we are to believe the reports we read it is clear that various Governments have performed trials as to the likely result of such an outbreak. Some of these trials are said to have used live virus as reported at by the well respected Dr Richard North, not to be confused with the other Richard North who generally supports the chemical industry and appears regularly on television.
What is clear is that the Government was reported to be printing Foot and Mouth warning notices at the end of the year 2000. MAFF warned farmers in the press that they should take out disease precautions in January and February 2001 and even published the web site details.
Witnesses state that MAFF was also ordering wood for Foot and Mouth pyres before the outbreak was officially reported and that those orders were not only made to suppliers in this country but also in Belgium and Sweden.
The EU was checking to ensure that it had adequate stocks of vaccine well before the outbreak and was also ordering more stringent tests for BSE whilst the press reported on vanishing beef exports as BSE fears "went global". The beef crisis threatened to bankrupt the EU.
Others report the existence of a map within the EU parliament which designates areas of the UK as livestock free and reserved for tourism.
It would therefore be an advantage to the EU to rid the UK of its livestock.
This would also have the added benefit of removing reservoirs of scrapie and BSE so enforcing restocking with "clean" animals which would enable the pharmaceutical companies to return to their old ways and harvest materials from the dead bodies of animals at the slaughterhouses in the UK.

All of this is speculation but all are possible explanations. Unfortunately the only people in possession of all the information necessary to discover the truth are MAFF officials who, as with BSE, are not always truthful. While the Government hotly denies the allegations, the claims have been repeatedly made that their officials were searching for supplies of wood from Sweden in December 2000 and wooden railway sleepers from UK suppliers and Belgium some two weeks before the outbreak. Others report that people from the UK who flew to such places as New Zealand were surprised to find themselves being subjected to the disinfection process and even more surprised to be told that this was due to the Foot and Mouth outbreak in the UK. This was before the first reports of the disease were made public in the UK.
This, together with reports that the virus was one of "Weapons Grade" deliberately formulated with 7 different strains to make vaccination impossible, would indicate prior knowledge of the impending outbreak and that it was no accident. Only those involved will ever know the truth and they will not be telling.

Now the rumours spread that the farmers themselves may be paying to obtain the disease in order to gain compensation. There seems to be no evidence of this and most "offers" of infected material are said to be made by phone calls which could be made by anyone and may well be hoax calls or even deliberately intended as a means to manipulate public opinion against the farming community.
It is unlikely that true farmers would ever stoop so low and some of the losses sustained can never be recovered. The hill flocks are the result of generations of breeding which depends on the long-term view that the way of life will continue. Farming is not simply a means to earn a living but it is a way of life. As with fishing and forestry it is those who do not understand that are destroying the living industries because they seem to believe that what is lost can be rebuilt easily as if it were some man-made factory. The loss of a herd of milking cows or a flock of sheep can take many years to replace and it will never be the same again.

Perhaps we should ask why the Government was forcing farmers to sign the Official Secrets Act?
When the Ministry of Defence was given the task of dealing with the disposal problem it was pointed out that this was because if anything went wrong then those responsible would be protected by that Act.
Some of the actions performed by the authorities under the cull would not be seen as strange in a Police state and there have been reports of house arrests and physical abuse of both farmers and those who have attempted to report what they have seen. Some of the reasons for culling entire herds have seemed less than scientific and this has been indicated by the willingness of those same official bodies to avoid culling animals in contaminated areas if it would give them good publicity. This makes less sense when we realise that they have destroyed animals simply because land on a holding is near a contaminated farm even if the animals themselves have been miles away from, and never been near, the boundary. It is estimated that 6 million, officially 4 million, animals have been destroyed and that some 95% of those animals have nothing wrong with them at all. All that perfectly good meat has been destroyed and the only benefit has been to reduce the excess produced in the EU and give more access to the UK's home markets to her competitors.

Recent reports suggest that the UK government has not paid the compensation for the dead animals and that this has come from the EU under the "surplus" stock funds. If true then this adds further to the need for the people of the UK to be told if this disease was deliberately introduced in order to reduce stock numbers in the UK.

One thing is certain and that is that Foot and Mouth is feared around the world. So much so that it is reported that in 1946 the United States and Mexico combined forces in order to eradicate the disease in Mexico. They are said to have employed 8,200 workers at the height of the campaign with costs running at over a million dollars a month and the final eradication was achieved in 1952. How much would such an operation cost today?

If the Government fails to stop the virus we will soon find out.

On 3rd August 2001 the Government announced that the disinfection programme was to be restarted under new contracts. They suggest that the cost per farm will be reduced from the claimed 100,000 pounds to nearer 36,000 pounds. So far there has been no published evidence to show that the average costs were anything like the excessive figures originally claimed. Many of the costs seem to have been the result of their own slaughter on suspicion policy but again the accusations are made against the farmers involved rather than those truly responsible. Government ministers are reported to have made derisory remarks about the farmers who have provided the food that has fed them all of their lives and have suggested that the farmers have been "feather-bedded". What they forget is that Governments with more foresight understood the need for a secure food supply at reasonable cost.

It is the consumer who is subsidised in order to maintain that suppy and this is the reason for the zero VAT on food and the production subsidies.

The Government has said that it does not want a public inquiry and instead has announced no less than three in-house inquiries into what went wrong.

The outcome is fairly predictable.

Dated 31/07/2001    Updated 12/8/2001

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