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Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Inquiry to be held into foot-and-mouth
Pyre of animal carcasses
The disease has ravaged many rural areas
The government will launch an inquiry into the foot-and-mouth crisis as soon as the outbreak has abated, according to the minister for farming and the food industry.

Lord Whitty said an announcement would be made when it appeared the disease was close to being eradicated.

Speaking at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) offices in Exeter, Devon, Lord Whitty said: "The main priority is to ensure we are stamping down on the remaining outbreaks of the disease."

Foot-and-mouth facts
Total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the UK 1,769 - one on 20 June
3,379,000 animals slaughtered
8,311 premises with animals slaughtered or earmarked for slaughter
The minister did not say if it would be a public inquiry, which farmers and other organisations, including the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, have been lobbying for.

Lord Whitty, who toured the Devon disease control centre on Wednesday, said an inquiry was required to enable lessons to be learned about how the disease arrived and spread.

He said he knew the prime minister did not want the inquiry to be as long as that into the BSE crisis.

"We need to learn lessons quickly," he said, adding that it was not intended primarily to apportion blame.

Production changes

The function of the inquiry would be to learn how the UK could react more effectively in a similar situation and minimise the economic effect of the disease.

In the coming weeks there will also be an announcement about the setting up of a policy commission to establish a medium-term strategy for the future of the farming industry, said Lord Whitty.

Lord Whitty
Lord Whitty was visiting Devon's disease control centre
The minister said farmers knew that returning to normal did not mean a return to what they were doing four years ago.

"There will be changes in marketing, and in what we produce and the way we produce it," said Lord Whitty.

The south-west regional director of the NFU, Anthony Gibson, said that a public inquiry into foot-and-mouth was "inevitable."

"You cannot possibly have the most serious outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the UK without having a public inquiry to learn lessons and make it less likely that this happens again," he said.

Conflicting demands

And the policy commission, he said, would have to address a "basic contradiction" faced by farmers over food production.

"On the one hand the government is demanding farmers produce cheap food in large quantities, but on the other hand they want the highest possible standards on environment, animal welfare and food safety," said Mr Gibson.

"Farmers want the government to say which way they want the industry to go.

"You cannot have high quality food production without relatively expensive food."

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