Professor Fred Brown, a leading expert on foot and mouth disease who has worked with the virus since 1955, is due to deliver a speech to the British Association Science Festival in Glasgow today, in which he will call for the government to conduct a large scale vaccination programme against the disease in the UK.

Currently the director of the US Animal Health Institute, Prof Brown was deputy head of the Pirbright-based Institute of Animal Health when the last serious outbreak of FMD hit the UK in 1967, and he is set to argue that disease control policy should cater for the fact that the FMD virus is temperature sensitive. As winter approaches, he says, vaccination is essential because the virus will become more virulent with the colder weather.
“I would have gone for [vaccination] just as soon as it was clear that the disease was not under control,” Prof Brown told BBC Radio 4‘s Today programme yesterday.

“Vaccination does work – just look at the record when they vaccinated in Europe. The number of outbreaks has dropped dramatically,” he added: “It would cut down the virus load. Even if a vaccinated animal became infected the amount of virus produced would be much, much lower and there would be less virus to disseminate.”

He also blamed the government for concentrating more on the animal export market than on how to control the disease: “Division [on whether to vaccinate] has been based on the trading stance that vaccinated animals are not acceptable. It is about economics; it isn’t about disease control.”

Prof Brown’s comments have echoed an accusation delivered on Wednesday by the Institute of Directors that the government mishandled the crisis by failing to introduce vaccination. The Institute argued that a vaccination programme could have dampened the intensity of the disease and its disastrous impact on other rural businesses.

So far, 2,006 cases have been reported and 3,825,000 animals have been slaughtered. A further 11,636 are currently awaiting slaughter.