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The BBC's Tim Hirsch
reports on the demands for an inquiry
 real 28k

Roger Eddy, Royal College of Veterinary surgeons
"The slaughter policy is working...these clusters were expected"
 real 28k

Friday, 15 June, 2001, 08:47 GMT 09:47 UK
Farm leaders admit disease mistakes
A vet checks for foot-and-mouth disease in sheep
Farms continue to be investigated by vets
The deputy director-general of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) in England and Wales has admitted his organisation has made mistakes in handling the foot-and-mouth crisis.

But Ian Gardner insists the NFU still has the confidence of the vast majority of its members.

His comments come as some farmers say the NFU has become too close to the government and no longer fully represents the industry.

Foot-and-mouth facts
Total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the UK 1,744 - Four on 14 June
3,310,000 animals slaughtered
8,158 premises with animals slaughtered or earmarked for slaughter
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has called on the government to commit to a full public inquiry into the handling of the epidemic.

For some time members of some smaller farming organisations have accused the NFU of failing to provide a distinct and critical voice of the government's handling of the crisis.

The NFU vigorously opposed any vaccination policy when the disease was at its height but was accused of ignoring the views of some farmers, including NFU members, who would have supported such plans.

Mr Gardner says many members across the UK have expressed gratitude for the help and advice the NFU has given them.

He insists the organisation will learn from its mistakes.

The number of cases of foot-and-mouth in the UK has reached 1,744, with four new cases confirmed on Thursday.

Pressure from the RCVS - the professional body regulating vets - for a public inquiry comes as the college says it is essential that the lessons of the epidemic are learned across the European Union.

Pressure for reform

It says the government should commit to a full public inquiry, even if it does not begin until the disease is eradicated.

Along with many scientists, the college believes the crisis has exposed serious weaknesses in the way scientific advice is sought and used by ministers.

On Wednesday, one of the UK's leading food safety experts blamed the government for the scale of diseases such as BSE, foot-and-mouth and e-coli.

Professor Hugh Pennington said the lessons of the outbreaks had still not been learned, warning that without "root-and-branch reform" another disaster was waiting to happen.

His biggest worry was that government ministers were simply not capable of understanding the scientific advice they were given.

New hotspots

Similar shortcomings featured prominently during the Phillips inquiry into BSE.

Margaret Beckett, the new rural affairs secretary, said the issue of an inquiry is still under discussion.

Ministers have said one should not begin until the outbreak was over.

A new foot-and-mouth hotspot appears to be emerging on the Devon and Somerset border.

Four new cases have been confirmed in the area since Tuesday, while a fifth farm is being investigated as a "dangerous contact".

Professor Hugh Pennington
Prof Pennington: Root and branch reform
Army units have been recalled to tackle the outbreak by helping to arrange disposal of carcasses.

Recent hotspots in North Yorkshire and Lancashire destroyed optimism generated by the general nationwide decline in new cases.

A slew of new cases in both areas led to strict movement restrictions and confusion as to why the disease had flared up again.

New hotspots would heighten some farmers' fears that the current slaughter policy will not completely wipe out the disease.

Some fear major new outbreaks in the autumn when conditions are more favourable for the virus.

Anthony Gibson, regional director for the National Farmers' Union, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the government should have a contingency plan for vaccination.

He said officials should consult farmers now, rather than waiting for any widespread new outbreaks before drawing up a plan.

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See also:

12 Jun 01 | UK
Foot-and-mouth 'tail' fears
10 Mar 01 | Online 1000
Online 1000 Issues and Foot and mouth
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