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Thursday, 25 July, 2002, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
Foot and mouth: What lessons have been learned?
Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett has revealed details of a report that criticises government handling of the foot and mouth crisis.

The Lessons to be Learned inquiry highlights ministers' failure to prepare properly for the scale of the outbreak and to halt the spread of the disease quickly enough.

The investigation which was chaired by Dr Iain Anderson CBE, has recommended that the army should be brought in sooner to deal with any future cases.

It also focuses on the damage done to tourism from the effective closure of the countryside.

Do you feel that the government handled the foot and mouth crisis properly? Have any lessons been learned from last year's outbreak?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

An absolute disaster for this country

Philip Cleverly
The foot-and-mouth disease was an absolute disaster for this country. I hope that the recommendations of this inquiry are kept somewhere secure and that should this disease ever occur again we have a government that cares more for the country than it does about its own image.
Philip Cleverly

Simple answer. Make farmers take out insurance or inoculate their livestock. Why should more taxpayers' money be wasted on this, already oversubsidised industry?
Andy Shanks, North Yorks

Visitors to the zoo in Philadelphia Pennsylvania in the US were asked if they had visited Britain in the recent past. The fear of contamination was international. Britain's failure to quickly and effectively deal with this outbreak or prevent it entirely is extremely disturbing. Unless there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than we see in public, it would appear that they have learned nothing.
Mark, USA

The main lesson we have learned is that the people in the countryside tell us townies that we do not understand them and should mind our own business, but when there is trouble due to their own bad practices they soon come to use townies for money to get them out of the mess they got themselves into.
Timothy Helm, England

The cull policy was designed to protect the international export market

Alex Duncan, Guernsey
The Anderson Report lays the blame for the crisis with the government, whose response it describes as slow, insufficiently resourced and riddled with gaps in knowledge about the disease and the farming community in general. Its policies were never aimed at eradicating the disease or limiting financial losses. Instead the cull policy was designed to protect the international export market. The decision cost the country upwards of 7bn and demonstrates clearly why we should back away from worshipping at the altar of globalisation. While we were mercifully free of foot and mouth here on Guernsey, we were also free of the UK government - a fact for which I remain grateful.
Alex Duncan, Guernsey

To my mind the greatest single act of folly in dealing with the outbreak was the use of funeral pyres. If the disease is so infectious that it was necessary to close footpaths cancel conferences in some rural towns then what about the huge plumes of smoke rising from these pyres. You do need to be a rocket scientist to realise that there were parts of these pyres which were barely higher than the ambient air temperature while they were burning. In all probability the convectional plume would have carried viral material upwards then deposited it downwind. Why on earth does no one else seem to be aware of this obvious fact?
Robin Hassall, UK

Of course mistakes were made

B. Bailey, UK
Sadly despite whatever factual information is published most of the comments here clearly show none of the respondents has actually read, or understood, most of the information. A highly infectious disease had 3 weeks head start with a government department understaffed and with under 250 vets. The largest logistical operation since WWII and with no effective vaccine. Of course mistakes were made, but the pathetic whinging of ill-informed members of the public should be thrown out with the rest of the trash.
B. Bailey, UK

What is clear from the findings of the report is that any Government would have been found wanting as none since 1967 had ensured that MAFF monitored the state of preparedness. Indeed the closure of many local abattoirs in the last twenty years exacerbated the spread of the disease. It is clear that the government is at fault in not controlling the outbreak better. It is equally clear that the farming community did little to prevent the outbreak in the first place.
Simon, UK

Lessons? Don't eat meat perhaps? As people still insist on buying the cheapest meat, farmers will still use cheap production methods. Makes you wonder why meat in Germany costs only half of what we have to pay here.
Volker, England (ex Germany)

Who knows who is to blame? We never had a public enquiry that would enable us to find out. So we have learned nothing; the next time an outbreak happens we will be as helpless as we were this time.
Hugh, UK

They were off guard, inept and incapable

Martin, UK
Two concerns. First, the inability of the government to handle a crisis without recourse to spin and 'political considerations'. They were off guard, inept and incapable. Second their reluctance to take on one of the main threats to our food chain - illegally imported meats and products. Travelling to France you are constantly warned not to take meat into the country. On the way back - nothing said. It just about sums up this government's attitude
Martin, UK

Recently there was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth in India as well. However, I am particularly surprised about England not going in for vaccination. Foot-and-mouth is not fatal and animals usually recover from it, but not vaccinating them against the disease is almost a deliberate act of cruelty to the poor animals. There is no widespread vaccination in India either, but those who can do it have had their cattle vaccinated.
Ashwatha Matthur, India

Once again we are only hearing what the government want to tell us. No mention of all the smuggled meat entering the country or the fact that in 1967 it was agreed that burying was the only way to control the disease. So what does the government do, it creates huge fires to spread the problem
Heath Brooks, England

Why don't you people let the disease run its course? That's what they do in the Third World. It won't kill you.
Joe, USA

The whole system is insane

Stephen Wey, UK
It was obvious from the start that the government's methods owed everything to pressure from the farming community and nothing to even a basic knowledge of biology and the mechanics of disease transmission. Even an O-level biology student would tell you that you might kill off nearly every sheep in the UK but if you don't vaccinate the ones that are left they could catch foot and mouth again and again. What is even worse is the fact that foot and mouth is not even a lethal disease anyway and most animals recover from it given time and basic care - however that costs too much and farmers know they can't sell an ill animal so the poor creature has to die to preserve their profits. The whole system is insane.
Stephen Wey, UK

I think the media should share some of the blame regarding the tourism crisis during the foot and mouth outbreak. They constantly showed pictures of dead animals being moved or burned. No wonder tourists stayed away.
Judy, England

We learn that it's vital to find a scapegoat

John, England
As always with such inquiries, we learn that it's vital to find a scapegoat so that blame can be apportioned. Without a culprit, how can we justify the huge cost of the inquiry in the first place?
John, England

The lesson is that this government, even when its intentions are good, is not capable of making things happen. Tony Blair ducked the vaccination issue and left it to the incompetent Nick Brown who consulted Ben Gill who came out against it. (Not surprising considering the level of compensation on offer to farmers but an appalling decision because of the deliberate cruelty involved).

We have all learned that no minister, no matter how incompetent, ever resigns in Tony Blair's government and Tony Blair stands by his ministers, incompetent or not, making him either the worst kind of hypocrite or the most incompetent prime minister ever.
Colin, UK

Why do farmers not insure their stock? Because they don't need to - the taxpayer picks up the bill. Of those farmers who have restocked, how many have insured against stock loss?
Lindsay Robertson, England

How can we know what lessons have been learned unless we have a full public enquiry into what happened? Fat chance of that under this mob.
John Adlington, UK

Vaccination is the only answer

Alan, UK
The hideous scenes of cruelty during the foot and mouth crisis, piles of burning carcases, the plight of the farmers, to say nothing of the air and ground pollution from this mishandled outbreak, will remain forever etched on one's brain. This must NEVER happen again. Vaccination is the only answer.
Alan, UK

The hideous scenes of cruelty during the foot-and-mouth crisis, piles of burning carcases, the plight of the farmers, to say nothing of the air and ground pollution from this mishandled outbreak, will remain forever etched on one's brain. This must NEVER happen again. Vaccination is the only answer.
Alan, UK

Never trust a government which doesn't know its foot from its mouth to deal with anything important.
Pete Hazell, UK

Why are they even bothering with this report? They had a perfectly good one written after the outbreak in 1967, but no-one bothered to read it. The current report will no doubt be treated in the same way when (not if, if the current policy on vaccination persists) we next have an outbreak.
Adam, UK

Why did no minister in the government resign over this fiasco? Billions of pounds were wasted on the policy of cull whereas in countries like France, Ireland and Holland which were also affected at the time, they immunised and brought the disease quickly under control. Once again, we have been failed by this government.
Steve, UK

Let the markets decide what happens on UK farms

NAK, Edinburgh, Scotland
The agricultural policy failures of this government have cost the taxpayer billions. Could it happen again? Yes of course it could. In my view the entire farming industry should be reviewed. If UK farmers cannot compete with foreign competitors on price, they should attempt to compete on some other basis. The government should stop subsidising the 'land-managers'. Let the markets decide what happens on UK farms, not the government.
NAK, Edinburgh, Scotland

No lessons have been learned. EU subsidy policy still encourages overstocking and excess movement of farm animals, and lack of border controls still permits unsupervised transfer of potentially dangerous material. Meanwhile animal health inspections have been scaled back to previous, grossly inadequate levels. The whole episode could easily recur tomorrow. If the government will not solve the problems (caused by a combination of shedding sovereignty to the EU and short-term penny-pinching) then let's have compulsory preventative vaccination of all livestock. Last year's outbreak proved that the financial and lifestyle consequences of another large-scale outbreak are simply unbearable.
Brian, UK

It should press on with long overdue reforms of the farming industry

Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK
What this report should tell the Labour government is that it should press on with long overdue reforms of the farming industry. I feel a great deal of sympathy for those farmers who were caught up in the epidemic through no fault of their own, but feel that the vociferous elements of the rural lobby (including Mr Gill of the NFU) only serve to obstruct in a manner that this government would never tolerate from anyone who ever tried the same tactics in say, the public services.
Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK

At the beginning of the outbreak the present government tried to sweep the problem of foot and mouth under the carpet. They were obviously trying to keep the initial outbreak as quiet as possible not offering the vaccine to farmers to administer to their livestock around the country. By not meeting the problem head on, until it was too late, millions of livestock had to be unnecessarily destroyed.
Jeff, UK

The government proved without a doubt that it will put its concerns and spin ahead of the country's best interests.
Martin, England

The recommendations of these reports are almost an exact copy of those following the previous major outbreaks over 20 years ago, so nothing new has been learnt. All the best practice was already there in black and white, but this arrogant government just ignored it, and no doubt would again.
Bernard, UK






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22 Jul 02 | Politics
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