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Monday, 29 October, 2001, 14:14 GMT
Farm disease strategy 'lamentable'
Cows grazing in front of pyres, AP
Report says pyres should never be used again
The UK Government's handling of the foot-and-mouth outbreak has been "lamentable", according to the first independent report into the crisis.

The preliminary report of the public inquiry held by Devon County Council accuses the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) of using the outbreak as an excuse for overriding the welfare of individuals and communities.

There's no doubt there was a very heavy-handed, almost jackboot approach to going in there and killing animals

David Hill, NFU

The damning report states that huge pyres of burning dead animals in the open should never be used again.

It also calls for a national contingency plan to deal with any future outbreak which would be reviewed, tested and rehearsed at least every five years.

David Hill, of the National Farmers' Union, said the report found the government's handling of the crisis to be both "incompetent and inadequate".

He also criticised the government's "heavy-handed" approach to the slaughter of animals, which he said had "frightened" farmers on the receiving end.

Mr Hill told BBC Breakfast news on Monday: "There's no doubt there was a very heavy-handed, almost jackboot approach to going in there and killing animals. It upset members at a time of their greatest trauma."

The report also calls for:

  • Import controls on meat and livestock products to be tightened
  • Scientific research into vaccination to help contain any future outbreak
  • Rapid financial assistance for 4,500 farmers and their families ineligible for compensation despite being affected by Defra's restrictions on animal movements.

Rural affairs minister Alun Michael said it was not right to comment on the report ahead of the government's own inquiry, but that changes were already being made.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think it is important that we learn the lessons from 2001 - a very different outbreak to the 1960s, the biggest in terms of handling and logistics you have seen in the world."

'Public inquiry needed'

Conservative spokesman on the environment Peter Ainsworth commended Devon council for initiating the first independent inquiry into foot-and-mouth.

And he accused the government of ignoring calls for a full public inquiry, which would give a view of the national scene.

Mr Ainsworth told BBC News 24: "The government has turned its back on those requests. I suspect because the findings are likely to be as lamentable as was found to be in Devon."

Devon was one of the counties worst affected by foot-and-mouth with 173 cases confirmed and 390,000 animals slaughtered. The council's report says recommendations from the official investigation into the 1967 outbreak were ignored.
Dartmoor sign, PA
Blanket access bans were "too damaging"

"We find that in the field there would best be a military command, with police, environmental and veterinary aides at its side from day one of an outbreak," it says.

It describes the last-minute vaccination training given in Devon as "ridiculous and dangerous".

The inquiry follows five days of hearings where 50 witnesses gave evidence to a panel of eight.

There were also 360 written submissions - more than a quarter from farmers. A vet told the inquiry the burning of infected carcasses had spread disease to other areas.

Another said the methods employed were "medieval". The government's culling policy was described by mid-Devon vet Wendy Vere as "carnage by computer".

Insensitive treatment

The RSPCA said animals suffered in a way that would in normal times have led to prosecution. Evidence was heard of bungled culls and insensitive and belligerent Defra staff.

Villagers told how a herd of cattle escaped and the animals were shot down by officials as they ran across a field.

The inquiry's independent chairman Professor Mercer is publishing his preliminary report at County Hall on Monday.

Lambs in mud, BBC
The RSPCA said sheep were drowning in mud
It is being presented early so it can be sent to one of the government's three national inquiries into foot-and-mouth, the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food, chaired by Sir Don Curry.

The Curry Commission will report its findings to the prime minister by the end of December. Its deadline for submissions is on Friday.

Defra did not attend the Devon inquiry - a decision which Professor Mercer said was "deplored by many" - but responded 11 days after the end of submissions.

Lord Whitty, the minister co-ordinating Defra's evidence to the various inquiries, has since defended the government's stance on vaccination.

He told Radio 4's World At One programme on Monday that many farmers and food manufacturers were opposed to a vaccination programme - and in the Netherlands, it did not prevent large-scale culling.

He said: "Vaccination could, in future, be considered as a supportive mechanism."

The BBC's Jane O'Brien
"This report is the closest we'll get to a public inquiry"
Conservative environment spokesman Peter Ainsworth
"I think it is shocking that Defra did not attend"
Food and Agriculture Minister Lord Whitty
"There are a whole range of roles which vaccination could play"
See also:

11 Oct 01 | England
Cull was 'chaos and a shambles'
11 Oct 01 | England
Vicar warns of disease's scars
04 Oct 01 | England
Council inquiry to be webcast
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