Spectre of FMD fiddle to haunt election

‘Wonky’ test results may hide outbreaks

Farming News May 2001

FEARS were voiced this week that the reporting of FMD cases may be "artificially" depressed to give a clear run-up to the election.

Although most vets remain tight-lipped about the figures, worries were growing that any relaxation in control measures could lead to a late explosion in numbers.

The reliability of FMD tests has been at the heart of the problem and could threaten vets’ ability to stay ahead of the disease, it was claimed this week.

Evidence for the numbers scam centres around reports that up to 60 per cent of confirmed and clinically-diagnosed FMD outbreaks in the field have come back negative on test.

A source told FARMING NEWS: "When this is the case the test is disregarded, as at best the test is now regarded as a little wonky.

"If a Slaughter on Suspicion (SOS) comes back negative, the result is accepted."

Conveniently, this puts the many positive SOS cases off the official register, seemingly reducing the FMD outbreaks.

"The test is clearly not accurate. Everybody around here knows of positive cases that have not appeared as infected premises. This sends the wrong messages, as everything appears alright," declared Devon vet Wendy Vere.

"Farmers are desperate to get animals out and moving again, but we need to know exactly what the situation is before they do."

In the case of an SOS declaration, MAFF vets have no jurisdiction to inspect surrounding premises which could harbour FMD and lead to new outbreak hotspots, as recently occurred in Somerset.

"This means we will be back to playing catch up with foot and mouth," said one of the vets involved.

Opposition MPs and farming leaders are now calling for an urgent review of the Government’s foot and mouth figures.

"It’s vital that Nick Brown heeds my repeated call for an independent audit, which would produce comparable figures," claimed shadow minister Tim Yeo.

"All of these issues need to be looked at in an inquiry. From the beginning there has been a vacuum of hard-and-fast information available to farmers," added au NFU spokesman.