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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Ministers order farm disease inquiries
Sheep being tested in Brecon Beacons
The government wants to make sure lessons are learned from crisis
The government has announced it will hold three independent inquiries into the foot-and-mouth crisis.

The investigations will look at the lessons to be learnt from the crisis.

But they fall short of demands by the Conservative party for a full public inquiry.

The announcement comes on the day one of Britain's biggest agricultural shows opened without any farm animals for the first time in its 106 year history.

Disease facts
Total: 1,941
New cases Thursday: 5
Slaughtered: 3,701,000
Awaiting slaughter: 18,000
Awaiting disposal: 3,000
The three inquiries are made up of an examination of the government's handling of the outbreak, a scientific review and a commission on the future of farming and food.

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said it would be "an inquiry process" rather than an "all singing all dancing public inquiry".

The policy commission will look at the future of farming and the balance between farming and rural communities in England.

There is already a similar review going on in Wales and the Scottish Executive are looking into having one of their own.

It was a manifesto promise by the government and will be chaired by Sir Don Curry, former head of the Meat and Livestock Commission.

'Immediate action'

The science review to be carried out by the Royal Society will look at how future epidemics can be prevented from breaking out in England, Scotland and Wales.

It will be chaired by Sir Brian Follett.

The third inquiry, chaired by Dr Iain Anderson, will look at the handling of the crisis by the government in England, Scotland and Wales and whether any mistakes were made.

Let's have the information in the next six months so we know what needs to be changed

Ben Gill, NFU
But shadow environment secretary Tim Yeo said only a public inquiry would rebuild public confidence and ensure the full facts were uncovered and properly scrutinised.

"Had action been taken more promptly and effectively at the start of the epidemic, the disease could have been brought under control much more quickly, saving many of the over three million animals already slaughtered, and much of the estimated 3bn cost to the taxpayer," he said.

"Only a full, independent, public inquiry will hold former ministers to account and uncover the full facts about this terrible epidemic."

Meanwhile, Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers Union, welcomed the fact that the inquiries were not just focusing on foot-and-mouth.

'Different approach'

"It isn't just a matter of keeping foot-and-mouth out of this country but of keeping all diseases out of the country in a co-ordinated way," he said.

Mr Gill did not see the need for a big public inquiry, which would, he said, ask lots of irrelevant questions.

Mrs Beckett agreed that the separate inquiries would work better and would be able to consider the issues more quickly.

"There were a lot of questions about what form the inquiry would take in the aftermath of food and mouth," she said.

Margaret Beckett
Margaret Beckett: Resisted calls for public inquiry
"We have actually approached it from a different point of view. There's a different timescale from the different aspects of the work."

The National Audit Office is already investigating the government's handling of compensation payments to farmers hit by the disease.

There have been 1,941 cases of foot-and-mouth across the UK, with 3,701,000 animals slaughtered.

On Thursday, for the first time in its 106-year history, the Devon County Show has been forced to rebrand itself as family entertainment, rather than the traditional farming industry event.

There are no prize bulls and cattle and the traditional sheep trials have been replaced by horse trials.

The BBC's Richard Bilton
"Not the single public inquiry that so many people wanted"
Scientific inquiry chairman Sir Brian Follett
"Our aim is to ask where these diseases came from"
Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett
"This will be an independently chaired inquiry"
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