Animal Aid

FOOT AND MOUTH - VACCINATION

Posted 1 April 2001

A cowThe Government, and the industry, has still not come to a decision on whether or not to vaccinate. Below, Animal Aid sets out, in a 'questions and answers' format our views on the issue.

Do you favour vaccination for FMD?

Vaccination will not prevent the cruel treatment and slaughter of animals destined for the food chain, so it provides no benefit for them. But if vaccination ends live exports, we favour it. We would also favour it if it prevents the destruction of sanctuary animals in foot and mouth disease (FMD) areas.

What's your view of the vaccination debate so far?

Early resistance to vaccination, as has been openly admitted by farmers' leaders and MAFF, was driven not by welfare concerns but by an attempt to protect profits derived from the export of live animals and meat products. Europe, prompted by the UK government, has a no-vaccination policy. This is because - according to government statements - international rules say that if any country has an FMD outbreak and animals are then vaccinated, there can be no exports for between one and two years from the end of the last outbreak.

What is the reason for that rule?

The vaccine tends to have the effect of suppressing the disease symptoms even though a vaccinated animal can be infected and go on to transmit that infection to others. A blood test on a vaccinated animal won't reveal what his or her disease status is (notwithstanding claims that this will be possible some time in the future).

Why is that a problem?

If symptoms are suppressed and you can't establish through blood tests whether or not an animal is infected, then disease carriers are likely to be exported and cause FMD to spread further.

CowsBut if symptoms are suppressed, doesn't that do away with the problem?

No. Not only can symptoms break out at a later date, research indicates that by suppressing symptoms of disease through vaccination, other, possibly more serious and longer-lasting health problems can be caused.

But doesn't the scientific evidence prove that FMD vaccination works?

The evidence is confused. An official report written five years after the 1967 British outbreak, but suppressed under the Official Secrets Act until March of this year, found that vaccines would have failed to halt the spread of the virus in four out of five '67 outbreaks. In fact, it may have made them worse. Evidence with regard to the fifth case was inconclusive.

Doesn't vaccination work for other diseases in farmed animals?

Farmed animals are subjected to a vast array of drugs - vaccines included - whose purpose is to suppress symptoms of various diseases that are a natural consequence of the oppressive systems in which these animals are bred, fattened, transported and slaughtered. The main aim of the drugs is to prevent animals from dying before they can be slaughtered. Bear in mind that most farmed animals are killed for meat after a lifespan of just a few weeks (poultry), a few months (pigs, sheep), or three or four years (the larger breeding animals).

But if vaccines keep these animals from dying prematurely isn't that a good thing?

It could be argued that early death is a mercy. The vaccines might keep a percentage alive who would otherwise have died before being slaughtered. But consider this: soon after birth, lambs are typically given a cocktail of eight vaccines against conditions such as pulpy kidney, black leg and dysentery. Even so, between 15 and 20 per cent of all lambs die within days of birth - that's about 4 million a year. They perish mostly from exposure, disease and malnutrition.

What is European vaccination policy?

The completion of the single European market required the introduction of 'a level playing field'. This means that Britain can send animals and animal products to other EU countries or to countries further afield only when it can be demonstrated that British animals are FMD-free. This status cannot be achieved, according to most commentators, where vaccines are in use. Exports can only resume, we have been told, when all vaccinated animals are dead, or when it is assumed that the biological impact of the vaccination programme has completely disappeared.

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