Thousands of animals culled in the foot-and-mouth out-break could have been saved if the Government had chosen to vaccinate, researchers claimed today.
Scientists at Warwick University said if Ministers had opted for vaccination and prompt culling it could have led to a ten-fold reduction in the amount of farms that lost livestock.
The research, published in Nature magazine, outlined how a culling and vaccination policy would have altered the way the epidemic was handled in 2001.
It also throws up questions for the Government over the way it handles any outbreak of avian flu.
Despite the large number of vaccines stockpiled, Ministers have indicated it is unlikely a mass vaccination programme will take place if the deadly H5N1 strain reaches Britain.
Using data collected during the 2001 outbreak, researchers Matt Keeling and Mike Tildesley developed a model on how the epidemic could be tackled. More than 10,000 farms were infected with foot-and-mouth in 2001.
The researchers' work states that the following would have been the likely result if the courses of action below had been followed:
* If there was no vaccination but highly efficient culling of infected farms, dangerous contacts and contiguous premises, 4,220 farms would have had their livestock removed.
* Culling (of infected farms and dangerous contacts) combined with vaccination of farms in random order would have seen 1,688 farms lose their livestock.
* Culling plus vaccination concentrated on largest cattle farms would have seen 1,535 lose their livestock.
* Culling plus vaccination concentrated on farms at shortest distance to any infected premises or dangerous contact identified within the last ten days - 1,088 farms would lose their livestock.
The research was carried out using current predictions that the Government would be able to vaccinate 35,000 cattle a day, and the most efficient vaccination zone would be a circle around the infected farms with a radius of between seven and eight kilometres.
The researchers found the most efficient form of vaccination was to vaccinate first farms based on the shortest distance to the infected farm or a potential "dangerous contact" and to do so as early as possible.
Russell Griffin, spokesman for the NFU West Midlands, dismissed the claim that a vaccine would have been a more effective way of controlling the outbreak in 2001.
He said: "While the study makes interesting reading, it is of course hypothetical and what it seems to disregard is the particular circumstances of the outbreak in 2001.
"The disease was already in different parts of the country before anyone realised it was here.
"The science was hopelessly divided at the time as to whether a vaccine would be effective and it was decided that it was not an effective means of controlling the dis-ease in the particular circumstances of the outbreak that occurred.
"The NFU has always supported the use of effective vaccines against diseases like FMD, depending upon the circumstances of an outbreak and the likely efficacy of any vaccine used.
"Should the UK experience an outbreak of foot-and-mouth again it is conceivable that, once an infected premises and any dangerous contacts had been slaughtered, an effective 'vaccinate to live' zone could be put in place within a certain r adius of the infected premises.
"However, I would stress that whether in practice such a vaccine would be used would depend on the circumstances of a particular outbreak."