CENTRAL VETERINARY SOCIETY
Minutes of a General Meeting of the Society held on Wednesday 15th February 2006 at the Crown Hotel, 7 London Street, Chertsey, Surrey, KT16 8AP.
Present: the President Mr. C. Boyde and 24 Fellows and guests.
Apologies for absence had been received from 14 Fellows.
Minutes of the meeting held on 10th January 2006 had been circulated and were approved, subject to the correction that Mr. Serth was not in fact a past-President of the Society.
Matters arising: Mr. Arthur Hayward had informed the Hon. Secretary that he had passed the minutes book for the period in question to Mr Colin Ellis.
Any Other Business: none
The President then introduced the speaker, Dr. Abigail Woods, lecturer in the History of Medicine at Imperial College, who gave a balanced an thoughtful presentation on "A Manufactured Plague: a history of FMD, 1839-2001". Dr. Woods stressed the importance judging the past on its own terms. It was important to refer to unpublished material as well as published, and to observe whose ideas had persisted.
Why control FMD in 2006? Public Health? No. Animal welfare? Yes, but not the prime consideration. Cost? Yes. In this context one must compare the cost of doing nothing, and having enzootic disease, to the cost of control. In one sense, we control the disease because we can, and because we fear it.
In 1850 FMD was not an animal welfare issue, and with no legislation, trade restrictions, vets' bills or productivity issues, there was no reason to control. In addition, spontaneous generation was still accepted, thus control was not regarded as feasible. The disease was not feared. However, in 1865 cattle plague (rinderpest) spread rapidly and caused high mortality. Action was essential, with import restrictions, and affected and in-contact slaughter (1866 Act). This worked, incidentally proving spontaneous generation to be fallacious. FMD incidence was reduced as an incidental benefit, showing that control was possible. Years of controversy followed as to whether single-minded attempts to control FMD were desirable, as half-measures were ineffective, but between 1869-84 controls gradually assumed their current form. By 1885 the disease was seen as costly, because half-measures had imposed costs, but by 1886 disease had disappeared, and the slaughter policy was favoured. Pedigree breeders, with more susceptible stock, provided impetus for eradication.
Consensus was short-lived however, with an outbreak in Ireland in 1912-23, and disease coming in from Argentina between 1924-68. In the Cheshire outbreak (1923-24) slaughter almost failed, with a backlog so long that slaughter teams were coming for recovered stock, which angered farmers. The 1967-68 outbreak was followed by the resolve "never again", and that vaccination should be used. But this was forgotten by 2001.
The 2001 controversy was nothing new. The slaughter policy worked. However it was not inevitable, rather a product of history. There are implications beyond that of stamping out disease, and if history had been different, the approach might have been different. Nevertheless it is impossible to go back, and with Britain having taken the lead in demanding FMD-free produce from its suppliers, reaction to a suggestion to go back to tolerating the condition is unlikely to be well received.
There followed an interesting discussion with contributions from several Fellows with intimate experience of FMD in the field. Mr. G. Davies praised Dr. Woods' book and offered to review it for the Veterinary Record.
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