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Saturday, 4 August, 2001, 19:46 GMT 20:46 UK
Slaughter policy 'did not waste money'
Testing in Wales
Tests show there are still fresh outbreaks
The government has denied squandering billions of pounds on efforts to eradicate foot-and-mouth, rejecting claims that vaccination would have cut costs by two-thirds.

Research for the BBC suggests vaccinating animals would have been at least 3bn cheaper than the government policy of slaughter and disposal.

The study also suggests that introducing vaccination now - six months after the first outbreaks - could result in substantial savings if the crisis continues long term.

We don't rule out vaccination and never have but the argument is a complex one

Junior minister Elliot Morley
But Elliot Morley junior minister at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says the study failed to consider the widespread nature of the outbreak and varying compensation costs.

The National Farmers' Union has also challenged the study's findings, saying vaccination would have caused the disease to spread more quickly.

But as the debate continues, slaughtermen have carried out a third sheep cull in the Brecon Beacons after disease antibodies were discovered in 1,300 sheep.

Rising cost

The number of outbreaks across the UK has now reached 1,928 cases with 3,656,000 slaughtered.

Economist Professor Peter Midmore, who carried out the study for BBC Radio 4's Today programme, predicts the cost of fighting the disease and compensating farmers will reach 5bn by the end of the year.

Dead sheep
Millions of animals have been killed
"If vaccination or culling were equally effective in bringing the outbreak to an early close then the cost difference is fairly little, there is not much to lose in employing vaccination," he said.

"But because culling has so far been claimed to be the most effective method of halting the outbreak, but clearly has not had quite the impact we would have expected, then I think vaccination should be given a chance."

He said vaccination could be a very much cheaper alternative to slaughter "in the longer term if the outbreak does continue, and there are fresh outbreaks".

But the NFU, the now defunct Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (Maff) and its replacement Defra have continually resisted calls for vaccination.

Complex argument

Mr Morley said the study was flawed because the widespread nature of the outbreak would have made ring-vaccination virtually impossible.

He added: "This economic study seems flawed because it does not factor in the cost of compensation.

Disease facts
Total cases: 1,928
New cases Saturday: 2
Animals slaughtered: 3,656,000
Awaiting slaughter: 38,000
Awaiting disposal: 21,000

"There is an assumption that all the culled livestock would be sold as food yet some animals will be bleeding animals and some could be dairy cattle with longer life spans of up to 10 years.

"Compensation for such losses would contribute far greater costs to the taxpayer than we are facing at the current time.

"We don't rule out vaccination and never have but the argument is a complex one."

The NFU's Ian Gardener, also dismissing the study, said: "You have asked the wrong person the wrong questions."

The "most important variable" was the speed at which the disease spread from farm to farm, he said.

Mr Gardener said scientific research being published next week will show "quite clearly that the disease, if we had treated it with vaccines earlier, would have spread far faster than it did".

The BBC's Nicholas Jones
"The National Audit Office is going to look into the contingency plan"
See also:

03 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Foot-and-mouth vaccine 'little help'
25 Jul 01 | Wales
Disease hits Beacons flocks
31 Jul 01 | Wales
A Brecon farmer's struggle
03 Aug 01 | UK
Farm clean-ups to resume
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