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Chris Laurence and Richard Wakeford
Chris Laurence and Richard Wakeford
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST HOSTED BY PETER SISSONS INTERVIEW: CHRIS LAURENCE and RICHARD WAKEFORD JULY 29TH, 2001

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

PETER SISSONS: Now the spectre of foot and mouth, as we just heard, came to dramatic prominence again this week, the government announced that 4,000 sheep would have to be culled in the Brecon Beacons. In a moment I'll be talking to the RSPCA's Chief Veterinary Officer Chris Laurence and the Chief Executive of the Countryside Agency Richard Wakeford. But first Branwen Jeffries has spent the last few days talking to the people who have got the most to lose in Powys, the farmers and the graziers. She joins us now live from Wales, Branwen good morning, what can you tell us.

BRANWEN JEFFRIES: Well I think the most important thing is the farmers here are angry and bewildered when they hear talk of this crisis of foot and mouth tapering off. In the last few days farmers here have seen the work of generations wiped out. Sheep bred to graze these hills which have shaped this landscape in the Brecon Beacons have been culled, 4,000 of them, as you said, taken away from here in lorries to be rendered in England. And now there's a great feeling of uncertainty, a lot of farmers are waiting now for the results of tests. Rob Davies, your family has farmed here for almost 100 years, your sheep are going to be tested, do you think they'll be culled?

ROB DAVIES: I think if, if infection has spread across the hills, as the, as the DEFRA believe it has and the tests are indicating that it has I believe they will be culled. We're in the middle of the vast range of mountains here which, which span 20, 30 miles in each direction towards Swansea and back towards Cardiff and back down towards Monmouth so you've got an enormous amount of sheep on these hills which, it's got the potential to be another Cumbria. On the edge of these hills you've got small hill farms, literally thousands of hill farms and then you've got the potential to infect those farms.

BRANWEN JEFFRIES: You're very worried obviously it'll spread and you could lose livestock, you've been working, I know, in the last few days bringing in the hay but you don't know if you're going to have animals to feed it to?

ROB DAVIES: Well that's, that's, you know that's been the case, so many people in the area, we don't know, it's the uncertainty that, that, it's the worse thing, what the farmers who've lot their animals already must be feeling is, is indescribable. I know most of them personally and, they'll come back from this, they're strong, they're strong families. There were some difficult decisions, they had to make but I believe that culling is, is the only way and I'm sure, I'm sure they believe that as well.

BRANWEN JEFFRIES: Rob thank you very much indeed. Well obviously the effects here are going to be devastating for farmers and for the tourist industry. I think the economic effect here will be felt for many years.

PETER SISSONS: Branwen thank you. Now Chris Lawrence from the RSPCA and Richard Wakeford from the Countryside Agency, good morning. It's so beautiful there and so totally depressing, why is the cull necessary, I mean these are sheep, aren't they, who've recovered from foot and mouth, they're picking up the antibodies but they haven't actually got it now?

CHRIS LAURENCE: That's not strictly true, some of those sheep will actually be carriers, so they look perfectly normal, they're carrying antibodies but they are also carrying the virus in their throats and if you stress those sheep they start to excrete virus in large quantities and then they're a risk to other animals they come into contact with.

PETER SISSONS: Is the bottom line then, Chris, you may have to take out every animal in the area?

CHRIS LAURENCE: That's feasible, the trouble is that the numbers of animals that you're dealing with, because essentially you have sheep starting in, in Crickhowell in the South, going all the way up through Wales to Anglesey in the North and I can't believe that anybody's going to propose slaughtering all of those, the numbers are just enormous. It puts everything that we've done so far in the shade.

PETER SISSONS: Richard why has this gone on so long, do you, have we got an element of, of government incompetence here?

RICHARD WAKEFORD: I don't think anyone knows exactly why the tail is so long, the government has always said that the tail of the disease is going to be a long one but the wider impact of this is going to be the one on the rural economy. The farm compensation scheme exists, and farm clean up is going on but when the Brecon Beacons are cleared of sheep in the way in which the correspondent was talking about this morning, the impact is not only on the farmers but on the rural businesses who are trying to operate there. And incidentally on many of the farmers who have diversified into other businesses, into tourism based industry and they find that their income is suffering because visitors are not going there. The countryside is open, you can go to towns in places like the Brecon Beacons, you can walk in much of the countryside, so the best way in which we can help is to actually visit the countryside and enjoy it.

PETER SISSONS: Let me get you both to react to an important, a very serious story if it's true, in the Independent on Sunday today which they say is startling new evidence of scams practised by farmers to profit from this slaughter. They're saying that the investigation provides the first hard evidence that farmers are being offered diseased sheep for sale so they can infect their own flocks and claim hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation. It's also uncovered an official document showing how the government allows farmers to make huge profits from cleaning up their farms by hiring their own equipment to the Department of the Environment at exorbitant rates. Chris Lawrence, what's your reaction to that story?

CHRIS LAURENCE: The, the rumours of selling infected sheep have been around for as long as foot and mouth has and there's never been any real evidence that that's the case. The problem with this outbreak is much more that it was spread far and wide before we detected it was there and so the sheep on the Brecons were probably infected months and months and months ago, probably right at the beginning of the whole exercise. And so the rumours of spreading deliberately may well be unfounded. I've no doubt that there are some farmers who are unscrupulous enough to do that but they are a very small minority, the great majority of farmers in this outbreak are absolutely devastated by what's happened. It's their livelihoods gone, their way of life gone.

PETER SISSONS: Richard have you come across any evidence that these sort of scams are going on?

RICHARD WAKEFORD: No but if there are allegations of this kind I think it's very important that they should be investigated. A lot of public money is going into the foot and mouth clear up process and it's very important that the taxpayer ensures that only what is needed goes in there. I think there are a lot of other rural businesses who will be concerned to hear about allegations that money is being misused in this way when they too are suffering and there's rather less money going into those other rural businesses because it's much more difficult to pin down exactly where the exact effects are.

PETER SISSONS: Chris we were told that when the hot weather came this virus would pack up and go away because it didn't like the hot weather, there's absolutely no sign of that, is there?

CHRIS LAURENCE: No the hot weather will kill the virus that's on the ground but it won't kill the virus that's in the carrier sheep, it won't kill the virus that's still hanging around in, in manure pools in farms. So yes hot weather will help a little bit but knowing the British summer we won't have it for long, the carriers are far more important.

PETER SISSONS: And Richard, Prince Charles was quoted as saying the other day, the rural way of life is in risk of collapsing, do you think that's alarmist?

RICHARD WAKEFORD: The rural way of life was changing even before foot and mouth. Foot and mouth disease will accelerate that, we have a global market in agriculture and farming on a commercial scale is becoming much more removed from rural communities. When Debbie Aldridge buys a 100,000 tractor on the Archers what proportionate of that 100,000 is going into the rural economy. On the other hand when farmers get into the provision of things, we could call public amenities, but you know nature conservation, foot paths, bed and breakfast, that kind of diversified business, then they can reconnect with the rural communities which they've been traditionally the basis of.

PETER SISSONS: And finally Chris, when's this epidemic going to be over?

CHRIS LAURENCE: Oh anybody's guess I'm afraid.

PETER SISSONS: Do you think it could go into next year?

CHRIS LAURENCE: It could, I mean we know we're in for some quite severe welfare problems on farms over this coming winter because of food shortages. If we have movement restrictions as well as foot and mouth we'll be back to the scenes I fear next spring where we had this spring, sheep wandering around up to their elbows in mud, lambs drowning in mud and so on and so on. And getting rid of the virus is the key, finding these carrier sheep and doing something with them is really the key to that, government needs to get on with it, get it done in the next couple of months.

PETER SISSONS: Gosh, not very encouraging is it. Chris Lawrence, Richard Wakeford thank you both very much.

END

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