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Friday, 12 October, 2001, 19:34 GMT 20:34 UK
'Pyres spread disease' hearing told
Pyres burning
Pyres spread hair and skin from dead animals
The foot-and-mouth virus was spread by a carcass fire lit on an infected farm, a vet told a public inquiry.

Wendy Vere said that unburned hair and skin from the pyre fell on land around the village of Knowstone, near Tiverton, Devon, where a number of cases of the disease were later confirmed.

Mrs Vere said she had "great big bags" of unburned skin and hair which had also fallen on cars travelling up and down the north Devon link road.

She also told the Devon County Council inquiry that a report into the 1967-68 outbreak of the disease said that fires should not be lit in infected areas.

Written evidence

An apparent lack of contingency planning was also discussed. Mrs Vere said such plans should have been "gold plated" and ready to go.

She said: "After all, this is not a new disease."

A leading vet said that he believed the handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis "seemed medieval".

Stuart Richardson, the president of the Western Counties Veterinary Association, gave written evidence to the hearing.

lambs in mud
The RSPCA said sheep were drowning in mud
He submitted that in the past six months he had seen more animal welfare issues and more distressed colleagues than he ever thought possible.

The animal welfare problem was also highlighted by the RSPCA in its evidence to the inquiry.

Regional superintendent John Tresidder said the crisis and the way it was dealt with created welfare problems on an unprecedented scale.

He said that livestock suffered in a way that would normally have led to prosecution.

He said: "Lambs were literally drowning in mud. I have not seen anything like it in 30 years in the RSPCA. We have had telephone operators in tears."

Mr Tresidder also said the RSPCA would have wished to be involved in preparing a detailed contingency plan.

Ministry response

On the last day of Devon's foot-and-mouth inquiry, the government department which handled the crisis is still to respond to questions from the panel.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had promised to give written answers to questions.

A spokesman for Defra said the ministry had only received the questions from Devon County Council at the beginning of last week.

He said Defra staff were actively scrutinising the questions and would be responding in full as soon as possible.

Investigation launched

Previously, Defra also said that if there are any follow-up questions after the hearings, it would also respond to those as well.

The council launched its investigation into the crisis in August and received some 400 submissions for the hearings from across the community.

Devon was one of the counties worst affected by the disease, with 173 cases confirmed and 390,000 animals slaughtered.

A report on the hearings will be sent to one of the government's inquiries, the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming, by the end of the month.

See also:

12 Oct 01 | England
Farm crisis pushes up crime
11 Oct 01 | England
Cull was 'chaos and a shambles'
11 Oct 01 | England
Vicar warns of disease's scars
10 Oct 01 | England
Disease young 'suffered stress'
04 Oct 01 | England
Council inquiry to be webcast
03 Oct 01 | England
Public respond to disease inquiry
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