Friday, August 31, 2007

FMD: no smoking gun, and who cares

The Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak was an interesting test of newsgathering in the Internet age. In contrast to last time, when information dripped out from government spokesmen, the data was out there. In the early stages, the Bad Science forum's vets and scientists provided better and newer information than government or the news sites managed. And while on Tuesday 7th August we were awaiting Gordon Brown's statement on the HSE report, the PDF of the report itself had been published an hour earlier.

But perhaps all this emphasis on speed has a downside: the question of the moment, according to the media, throughout that Monday and Tuesday was whether the leak had come from the Institute for Animal Health or Merial. The HSE disappointed by making no accusations, but on page three of their report they say:

We have initiated further studies intended to provide additional molecular information
on the virus types in use at both organisations. This requires detailed technical
analysis and the results are not available for inclusion in this report but are expected
within a week.

Since then, silence. And not only silence from HSE and the government, who might have reasons to keep quiet: silence from the news media. Why is there no interest from them in who was responsible for this economic disaster? I can only assume that FMD is now old news, of no interest to anyone. This round-up article ends with questions, but even those are of 'how' not 'who'.


Well tomorrow's the big day when the HSE report is released. It now seems as if the virus strains were indistinguishable, the source was the Merial labs, but liability is disputed since the waste pipe maybe should have been maintained by IAR and was worked on by their contractors. The long silence was presumably broken by a rapid and extremely litigious exchange of letters between the two parties.

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