Over this last week, international television and radio news bulletins have brought world audiences graphic reports of an encroaching pestilence. The dreaded and highly infectious livestock disease known as ‘foot and mouth’ or FMD has returned to British shores. The globe is being treated to round the clock reports on ‘the extent of the FMD nightmare’. Mounds of destroyed cattle, gruesome pyres burning through the night, ashen-faced reporters delivering the latest outbreak statistics, people being warned to stay away from the countryside. “As well as being airborne, the foot and mouth virus can adhere to car tyres. Do not venture into the countryside, unless absolutely necessary.” warned the BBC Monday 27th Feb 10 o’clock evening news. The same feature included reports of international rugby matches being cancelled, a meat shortage crisis pending, pan shots of once-thriving but now empty cattle markets, lots of hype, lots of emotion, lots of TV batten-down specials…but, as we shall soon discover, no actual facts.
In truth, if the events of this last week have taught us anything, it is just how much we are at the mercy of today’s media. As a result of this barrage of emotive, inaccurate hype, there are now members of the public who consider it genuinely irresponsible to hang out a strip of bacon for their garden birds, or to go for a walk in the country until this crisis is over. Despite the much-trusted BBC, ITV, CH4 pronouncements, the facts surrounding this ‘crisis’ are very different to what we have so far been told.
Abigail Wood is a vet and researcher into the history of FMD, based at the University of Manchester in the UK. She remains very down to earth over these latest ‘rampaging vicious virus’ reports. Credence Publications contacted her as a result of her recent UK Times article (1) which began thus: “Foot and mouth is as serious to animals as a bad cold is to human beings. So why the concern?” Wood’s research, in conjunction with research carried out by Credence Publications makes it quite clear that FMD is not the vicious gremlin we have been led to believe.
So what is FMD? The current wisdom which we shall be examining a little later, theorises that FMD is viral in nature. Symptoms of FMD in livestock begin usually with a temperature, followed within 24 hours by the appearance of blisters and ulcerations on places such as the tongue, lips, gums, dental pad, interdigital skin of the feet, bulbs of the heels and milk teats. Occasionally, ulcerations appear inside the nostrils or on the muzzle or vulva. Visually, these ulcerations are the equivalent of large cold sores. The resultant illness and lameness causes decreased appetite, a drop in milk yield, a drop in productivity, and of course, increased care costs. Afflicted animals almost always recover, usually within a week or two. Death occurs in only 5 percent of cases. (2) And the meat is fit to eat. (3)
For much of the 19th century, FMD was common right the way across the UK. In fact, it was endemic. But it did not destroy farming. We lived with it. Our cattle became ill..and then they recovered. Life continued on as normal. So why today’s scenes of mass destruction? Quite simply, it is because we are continuing to adhere to some woefully errant farming policy instituted nearly 50 years ago. Says Wood: “The instant destruction policy was implemented in the 1950’s by the UK governing bodies, as a result of growing pressure over the years from pedigree herd owners, (rather than the more common meat and milk producers) who wished to see the eradication of FMD. Continued promotion of the slaughter policy by the UK authorities as the most effective way of dealing with foot and mouth, eventually persuaded the continent and then the rest of the world to follow suit. We instituted the policy, and now we have to live with the results of that policy.”
In those early years, FMD was as much a part of British farming as bad weather, poor harvests and other afflictions affecting livelihood. But in today’s intensive farming climate, production and global reputation is everything. Because of the UK’s continued and, as we shall see, unfounded insistence that FMD is highly infectious, and must be eradicated at all costs, one whiff on the global food markets that UK herds have FMD leads quite naturally to today’s totally disproportionate scenes. If we are in a pit, then it is a pit of our own making. And if this latest ‘outbreak’ is to be referred to as a nightmare, then it is a nightmare brought about by our own political and economic policies. The early zeal for the perfect pedigree – a disease-free herd – is this same ideal not mirrored in today’s genome quest for a disease-free human race? It seems that the FMD ‘instant destruction’ policy has its roots fair and square in the mistaken belief that all illness and disease, even those considered minor and/or harmless, can eventually be eradicated.
The cows, pigs and sheep dying today are not doing so as a result of any illness. They are dying entirely at the hands of man. The preliminary report on this latest FMD ‘outbreak’ submitted by Dr J.M. Scudamore, UK Chief Veterinary Officer, to the OIE (Office International des Epizooties) tells of 35 cases on three farms, no deaths occurring anywhere from the actual disease, but 577 animals on those farms nevertheless instantly destroyed. (4) Should we line up our children because they are coughing?
With the facts to hand regarding FMD, should we not begin to ask some fundamental questions? Why can’t our vital farming community, and the public at large be given the necessary facts, and then more importantly, the opportunity to question this instant destruction policy? But therein lies the difficulty folks. “It would be very difficult to change it now.” Wood told us. “That would be to question the perceived wisdom of the last 100 years.” It is entrenched scientific error, and intractable pride on behalf of the UK agricultural and governmental bodies, that is the killer in our midst. A spokesperson from the diagnostic department of Animal Health Trust who wished not to be named, stated “The hype is all out of proportion. If the authorities just left the animals alone to recover from FMD, this would make them healthy, and immune the next time around.”
Moving on from ‘foot and mouth as common cold’, what’s all this about FMD being viral in nature, being airborne, and sticking to car tyres and Wellington boots? Apparently, the FMD virus is quite choosy, being breathed out by pigs, but not breathed in by cats or dogs. It can be hosted by horses, but to no ill-effect, and humans too can contract the virus, suffering mild skin irritations. But is this pattern of disease grounded in reality? Does it conform to a sensible pattern of disease? Or are we once again just trusting the wisdom of the day? In attempting to discover how these agencies arrive at a positive diagnosis of FMD, and to try and get an explanation for the seemingly illogical nature of FMD proliferation, some conventional ‘dodging’ techniques began to surface. And especially when questioned over the possibility of mis-diagnosis.
The blood test used to determine the presence of the FMD virus is known as the ELISA test or enzyme linked immuno-absorbent assay test. The test delivers the positive reading by detecting proteins and antibodies in the blood, proteins and antibodies which are presumed to be there as a result the presence of the virus. At no time is a virus itself ever detected. No actual photograph exists anywhere of the FMD virus. Like so many other viruses in the $multi-billion virus industry, we have only innumerable artists’ impressions to go by. As far as actual proof is concerned, there isn’t any. We accept the virus model for FMD (and BSE for that matter) because that’s what we’re told. But there are good grounds indeed for questioning the validity of this whole approach to disease detection. For ELISA comes to us with a very chequered history.
In the realm of human medicine, ELISA is used extensively to detect certain diseases, particularly HIV. And this same test is now acknowledged to be responsible for delivering a very high number of ‘false’ positive HIV diagnoses. Conventional medical literature lists some 60 different conditions, unrelated to HIV that can elicit an HIV positive response, including flu! (5) It is conflict of interests, huge pharmaceutical losses, entrenched error and the threat of massive litigation that has so far stopped this disastrous story from becoming more widely known. Back to the farmyard, and we discover the animal kingdom is equally susceptible to foreign proteins in the blood and heightened levels of antibody activity. The stress of confinement alone can produce an immune response in an animal. Kelly Sapsford, Operations Manager at Harlan Sera Labs, a serum and antibody manufacturing company told us “Antibodies are not necessarily specific to one disease. Picture a key that fits a certain lock. The key to that lock is not necessarily unique. There may well be other locks out there that the key will fit..” What minor illnesses are there in the animal kingdom that might elicit the same immune response to FMD? And with all these farms being visited at such lightning speed, what are the protocols being adhered to? Are they being adhered to? Surely, we are allowed to know these things.
The officials at Pirbright Animal Health Laboratory responsible for managing this latest ‘crisis’, however think otherwise. No awkward questions are entertained. Under specific instruction from management, a Dr Tom Barrett at Pirbright told us that staff were not allowed to answer any questions, except through the Medical Director. Numerous telephone calls to MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries) produced the same negative response, pointing us only to their website. Repeated attempts to speak to somebody in authority at Pirbright finally located the Head of Diagnostics, John Anderson. He informed us that whilst the ELISA tests were manufactured ‘in-house’ “..of course, they were accurate.” This same pat answer is what was being delivered by the relevant authorities as the accounts of HIV misdiagnosis began to surface.
Anderson then listed the other tests which are used in conjunction with ELISA to supposedly confirm the presence of the virus. Unfortunately, the confirmatory tests he mentioned are all equally susceptible to error. And the fact that the Pirbright FMD tests are manufactured in-house excludes them from that valuable check and balance system known as peer review. When pressed on these points, Mr Anderson would not enter into discussion. But then extracting qualifying information from governmental bodies is never straightforward. Colin King, a spokesman from an independent veterinary diagnostics company, stated; “The protocol information and detail you seek will be almost impossible to come by. In peace time as well as in war, these government agencies won’t really tell you anything.”
In summarising the current FMD ‘crisis’, this simple extract from Abigail Wood’s account of the 1920’s Cheshire FMD outbreak is most revealing. Trawled from Cheshire local newspapers available at the Cheshire Records Office we read “Ministry teams were so far behind in their slaughtering that on many farms the cows had recovered before the slaughterers had arrived. Farmers looked at their now-normal cows in bewilderment and asked “Was that it? Was that trivial illness what all the fuss was about?” (6)
Until MAFF and other responsible agencies begin to answer these questions, and until we, the general public cease to worship so unremittingly at the altar of conventional medical science, this crisis (as with numerous other iatrogenic, or doctor induced crises) will remain out of control and on the rampage. For it is in researching this situation more carefully, that we realise the only identifiable entities out of control and on the rampage are our own ignorance of the facts and those official bodies conducting the current slaughter. The fact that the latest news bulletins are reporting that ‘expert’ intervention may now have contained the crisis, must not lull us into a false sense of security over their expertise. There was nothing to worry about in the first place. The whole thing has been an absolute disgrace.
For what it’s worth, I see no risk at all in going out for a walk in the country. And were I to hold the post of ‘minister for birdfeed’, I would not hesitate in giving permission to all chaffinch lovers to hang out those strips of bacon… if bacon is their preference of course!
1. UK Times, 1.3.2001
2. Australian Animal Health Information Services. www.aahc.com.au March 5, 2001 update.
3. UK Times, ibid
4. Office International des Epizooties http://www.oie.int/eng/info/hebdo/AIS_60.HTM#Sec2
5. A more detailed account of the problems with ELISA testing can be found at:
http://www.virusmyth.net/aids/data/cjtestfp.htm and also at
6. Ms Woods is soon to be releasing her own report on FMD. They will be published in full in Ms Wood’s report.