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Monday, 22 July, 2002, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
Beckett accepts farm disease errors
Pyre
Seven million animals were slaughtered
Mistakes were made in the UK Government's handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis, Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett has acknowledged.

An official report says that ministers were too slow in their response after the first few cases were diagnosed.

Inquiry's terms of reference
Vaccination merits
Adequacy of contingency plans
Was government response effective?
Was response justified?
Was farming community prepared?
Responding to an official report into the handling of the 2001 outbreak, Mrs Beckett told MPs that errors were bound to have occurred.

"The house will know that I have always acknowledged that in the desperate circumstances faced not only by the farming community but by my department and its officials... mistakes were bound to have been made," she said.

Mrs Beckett confirmed vaccination would form part of the government's strategy for containing the disease in the event of another outbreak.

"[The report] gives us the basis to learn lessons and learn lessons we will," she said.

According to the report, the army should have been brought in sooner - a delay Mrs Beckett blamed on poor information systems.

The Lessons To Be Learned report highlights "grievous mistakes" made by ministers, shadow rural affairs spokesman David Liddington said.

He said there was an "apparent vacuum" in crisis management and that the handling of the outbreak was "negligent, incompetent and complacent".

"It will take more than promises, it will take action and results to restore the trust of people in the countryside in ministers," Mr Liddington said.

The damage done to tourism from the effective closure of the countryside was also 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.

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.

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.

The report is also thought to 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," she told Today.

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.

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 Niall Dickson
"The government accepted lessons needed to be learned"
Report author Dr Iain Anderson
"At a certain stage in the epidemic there was a sense of panic"
Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett
"It's a very serious and thorough report"


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