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NFU President Ben Gill today emerged from a meeting with the Government's Chief Scientist saying he remained unconvinced of the need for vaccination to complement the Government's current policy on foot and mouth.

The constructive meeting discussed how the disease could be eradicated as quickly as possible while slaughtering the minimum number of animals - but without having to resort vaccination. It was also attended by professional veterinary bodies which joined the NFU in voicing many real concerns.

Following the third day of talks with Professor David King, Mr Gill said: "The battle against foot and mouth is being won - that is clear from the reduction in outbreaks. The current policy needs to be continued.

"Going down the vaccination route would be a massive gamble and we do not believe the odds have changed following today's meeting.

"Vaccination has never been a simple remedy to foot and mouth. The scientific arguments alone are not clear cut and many consequential issues remain unresolved.

"We still firmly support the Government's current strategy of slaughtering confirmed cases within 24 hours. We also discussed how a more targeted approach against dangerous contacts, especially sheep, might be implemented. All the evidence is that this tough approach is working.

"We have had talks today about how we can improve the operation of this strategy even more, ensuring that the smallest number of animals possible are slaughtered."

As well as attending further talks today, Mr Gill has also written to NFU livestock members setting out the NFU's reasoning. He added: "Yes, there is likely to be a rise in cases when more and more cattle come out to pasture from winter housing.

"But this has always been known and has been factored into the epidemiological models on the progress of the disease. The advice we have received is that the impact of this may well be considerably less than predicted.

"And completely aside from our very real fears that vaccination would simply prolong the outbreak and result in more culling in the long term, we have still not received adequate assurances that there would be a market for products from vaccinated animals, both here and abroad.

"The number of confirmed cases is falling and only last week the Government was expressing optimism, albeit cautious. We must stick to this hard but necessary route."

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