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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Farm disease response criticised
Foot-and-mouth sign
Restrictions remain in place in areas of the UK
The UK Government's response to foot-and-mouth disease has caused more damage to the rural economy than the virus itself, says a rural campaigning group.

The Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) claims that the policies brought in to control the outbreak show a failure to understand the modern countryside.

The disease has now disappeared from all but a few small pockets of infection in Cumbria and Northumberland.

The initial response to 'close the countryside' was based on the misnomer of a separate rural economy isolated from the rest of the economy

Gregor Hutcheon
But businesses and communities across the UK continue to feel its impact, and not just in the countryside.

The CPRE published the findings of its review of the lessons to be learnt from the epidemic on Monday.

The report says that by effectively "closing" the countryside in the early days of the disease, the government ignored the wider costs to the local and wider economy.

In particular, ministers failed to understand that food production plays a relatively small part in the modern rural economy - tourism, for instance, is worth far more.

The CPRE's acting head of rural policy, Gregor Hutcheon, said: "The impact of foot-and-mouth disease and the government's attempts to eradicate it have highlighted a number of false assumptions about the modem economy of the countryside and the role of agriculture in that.

'False assumptions'

"The initial response to 'close the countryside' was based on the misnomer of a separate rural economy isolated from the rest of the economy.

"It failed to appreciate how much business other than agriculture also rely upon a high-quality countryside.

"As a result, many businesses, in both the town and the country, have experienced tremendous hardship and economic difficulties."

The report says that rural policy needs to recognise that the countryside is about much more than farming, and farming is about much more than producing food.

Disease in the UK
Total cases: 2,026
Slaughtered: 3,890,000
Awaiting slaughter: 5,000
Awaiting disposal: 2,000
It also needs to recognise that while rural and urban areas have separate qualities and character, they are economically intrinsically linked.

Ministers say they are learning the lessons of the crisis with a complete review of the future of farming in the wake of the disease.

The deputy director general of the National Farmers' Union, Ian Gardiner, said a science inquiry would help make recommendations for the future and show whether steps taken by the government were correct.

"We will play our part in that, but the other aspects of foot-and-mouth control are the dramatic effects, much more dramatic than was expected, on the British economy," he said.

"But I think that's more to do with the fact that we have disease, than the way in which we decided to control it."

Peter Ainsworth, shadow secretary for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said the CPRE report confirmed that the government was incapable of adequately addressing the problems posed by foot-and-mouth.

The CPRE concludes there are three key lessons to be learnt from the government's handling of the outbreak:

  • The countryside and the economy of rural areas are no longer isolated from the wider economy.
  • The beauty and the diversity of the countryside is a major economic as well as environmental asset for the nation and should be treasured, better protected and restored.
  • The current focus on agricultural production and its contribution to the economy of the countryside needs to be broadened.
The BBC's Tim Hirsch
"Ministers say they are learning the lessons from the crisis"
Representatives from the NFU and CPRE
discuss rural economy issues, in the light of foot and mouth
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