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Monday, 22 July, 2002, 13:42 GMT 14:42 UK
Ministers face foot-and-mouth censure
Pyre
Seven million animals were slaughtered
The army should have been brought in sooner by the UK Government to handle last year's foot-and-mouth outbreak, an official inquiry is expected to say.

The Lessons To Be Learned report highlights ministers' failure to prepare properly for an outbreak on that scale and to halt the spread of the disease quickly enough.

The damage done to tourism from the effective closure of the countryside was focused on by the last of three independent inquiries into the epidemic.

The catastrophe of mass slaughter, funeral pyres across the country and ruined farms is estimated to have cost the economy 8bn.

Inquiry's terms of reference
Vaccination merits
Adequacy of contingency plans
Was government response effective?
Was response justified?
Was farming community prepared?
The need to bring in the army sooner will be one of the inquiry's key recommendations for handling any future outbreak, according to newspaper reports.

This investigation into what went wrong and the lessons that can be learned, chaired by Dr Iain Anderson CBE, included a series of public meetings in areas worst hit by the disease.

But the questioning of government witnesses was in private.

Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett will make a statement to the Commons at 1530 BST, after which the report will be made public.

Army support

The Anderson report particularly criticises the government for failing to use the military in the worst affected areas in Cumbria and Devon until four weeks after the first confirmed case.

This was despite the fact that the previous official inquiry report into the 1967 outbreak recommended the immediate call-up of the army.

It is anticipated that the report will also highlight the inadequacy of the contingency plan in place at the outbreak's onset in February last year.

This was based on there being 10 infected premises when there were at least 57 before diagnosis.

This had risen to more than 2,000 by the time the last case was confirmed in September.

'Slight delay'

Professor Roy Anderson, of Imperial College, London, a member of the scientific panel advising the government during the outbreak, said there were "some crucial delays" at the beginning of the outbreak.

"There was a slight delay in bringing in the Ministry of Defence to deal with the logistics of culling," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Prof Anderson said there had not been enough vaccines available to deal with the millions of animals affected.

But, he stressed: "The scientific advice was at certain stages that vaccination, particularly at the spring turn-out of animals, would have been a feasible option in an area such as Cumbria."

Asked if National Farmers' Union pressure had prevented a vaccination programme, the professor said: "Perhaps, but also there were logistical problems in terms of the volume and the amount of vaccination required."

Election considerations?

Green MEP Caroline Lucas, vice president of the European Parliament foot-and-mouth committee, argued that the government had been unwilling to bring in the army so close to a general election.

"It could have been a demonstration of panic, perhaps they might have thought, and basically, in order to be able to ensure that when we got to election date, they could say that the thing was under control," she told Today.

Ms Lucas said the government did not want to vaccinate infected animals because it wanted to protect the export trade.

"That was such a stupid economic decision in a sense that the export trade is worth around 630m a year.

'Unnecessary slaughter'

"To safeguard that, they were willing to see go up in smoke between 8bn and 20bn in terms of costs to the wider community.

"What we saw was a government prevaricating, a government basically following a computer model which was completely flawed, which led to a brutal slaughter policy which in many cases has shown to be unscientific and unnecessary."

The government has been criticised for stopping short of holding a full public inquiry into the outbreak.

It did commission three reports into the handling of the disease.

Compensation

A scientific report by the Royal Society into the disease published last week recommended the use of emergency vaccination as an alternative to mass culling.

Mass slaughter led to the loss of almost seven million animals and a compensation bill to farmers of 1.3bn.

The first of the three inquiries into the disease - the Policy Commission On The Future Of Farming And Food, chaired by Sir Don Curry, reported its findings in January.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Wyre Davies
"The countryside was effectively closed down by the government"
Caroline Lucas of the EU foot and mouth committee
"We saw a government... following a computer model which was flawed"
NFU President Ben Gill
"It took such a long time for the army to be agreed to come in"


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22 Jul 02 | UK
16 Jul 02 | N Ireland
16 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
16 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
16 Jul 02 | UK
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