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Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 05:30 GMT
UK accused over foot-and-mouth
A vet examining a lamb for foot-and-mouth disease last year
Farm jabs could avoid burning animals on pyres
Vaccinating animals must be used as the measure of first resort in a future foot-and-mouth outbreak, according to a damning report into last year's UK crisis.

The report, by a committee of the European Parliament, insists that a mass cull of animals on the scale carried out by the government to combat the widespread outbreak of the disease "will not be publicly acceptable again".


The government has done everything in its powers to hide this evidence from the British people

Robert Sturdy
It claims some farmers were intimidated and pressurised in connection with the culls.

Tory MEP Robert Sturdy said the report, the outcome of a year-long inquiry, "should shame the government".

"Its inept handling of the foot-and-mouth outbreak is now well documented," he said.

"It is no surprise that the government has done everything in its powers to hide this evidence from the British people."

The report shows that the outbreak could have been better contained if animal movements had been banned, he says.

"There is also clear evidence that the government has been falsifying figures in an attempt to play down the true impact of the outbreak.

"Government figures suggest that six million animals were slaughtered. Our findings point to a figure of 10 million."

'Balanced assessment'

Labour MEPs had warned last year that the inquiry would be used by the Conservatives as a "witch hunt".

But Gordon Adam, Labour's farm spokesman in the European Parliament, stressed that its findings were "a reasonably balanced assessment of what was the largest outbreak of foot-and-mouth ever recorded anywhere in the world".

"The report does not neglect the horrors of the crisis nor the trauma suffered by those involved either directly or indirectly," he said.

Robert Sturdy
The report should 'shame the government'
"Nor does it run away from the mistakes in policy or of administration: It largely succeeds in concentrating on those issues which need to be addressed at European level".

Mr Adam said that when the first case of foot-and-mouth was confirmed, 57 farms in 16 counties were already infected - far beyond the scale of any reasonable contingency planning.

"Hindsight has been the main witness," he said, adding: "My main concern has been that we should not give the impression to the farming community or the general public that slaughter can be replaced by vaccination."

Avoid mass burial

But the inquiry says that "in any future outbreak, emergency vaccinations, with the aim of allowing animals to live for normal further use, should no longer be regarded as a last resort for controlling FMD but must be considered as a first choice option from the outset".

Emergency vaccinations must be carried out "in those cases in which it is possible to avoid mass burial or burning on pyres".

The report argues that "the large number of animals culled caused enormous problems in the disposal of animal carcasses which could... have been reduced by means of vaccination on neighbouring farms within a certain radius of infected farms".

Failure by the government to impose an immediate movement ban led to a "considerable increase in a number of cases".

There were "considerable shortcomings" in contingency plans and logistical and staffing preparations for an FMD outbreak in the UK.

"These shortcomings and the sometimes inadequate information policy caused considerable stress among those concerned," the report says.

Shocking

It continues: "The British government's decision to bury animal carcasses in mass graves or burn them on pyres as part of the mass culls was, at least in some cases, taken without adequate consultation of local institutions.

"Because of this, there were breaches of human and environmental health guidelines from emissions and groundwater pollution.

"It placed a huge burden on the populations of the areas concerned, and television pictures of the burning pyres and mass burials shocked the public on animal welfare grounds and had a catastrophic impact on tourism in those areas."

The report is set to go before the European Parliament in December for final approval.

It stresses that in case of future similar outbreaks, compensation go to businesses such as tourism and not just to farmers.

A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the inquiry, with which government ministers and experts co-operated fully, was looking at the "broader EU picture" and not just the UK.

"We look forward to publication of the final report in December which is expected to be of considerable value in future EU-wide considerations of foot-and-mouth disease and other exotic animal diseases."



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