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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August, 2003, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
Lawyers damn FMD handling
Burning cattle
The report says animals were 'incinerated alive'

Two Cardiff law professors have described the UK Government's handling of the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis as a "panic response" and "blatant incompetence."

They have also warned that the lack of lessons learned by the government have meant that there could be another foot-and-mouth disaster waiting to happen.

Professors David Campbell and Bob Lee conclude in their report that the handling of the crisis "involved lawless action by a government on such a scale as to amount to a negation of the basic precepts of the rule of law".

The crisis cost the farming industry 3bn in disease control and disposal of stock, some of which was recovered by farmers in compensation.

But the rest of the rural economy, including the tourist industry, lost an estimated 5bn, little of which was ever recovered by the sector.

In sum, stamping out was abandoned in all but name. Mass, almost indiscriminate killing took place
Professors Campbell and Lee
The report, entitled Carnage by Computer: The Blackboard Economics of the 2001 Foot and Mouth Epidemic - about to published in Social and Legal Studies academic magazine - rejects the government's policy of handling the epidemic.

In fact, Professors Campbell and Lee describe the mass slaughter over 10 million farm animals as "despicably cruel."

The academic lawyers from Cardiff Law School's Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society (BRASS), also accuse the government of "carnage by computer" and "postcode slaughter" in the way they picked out the farms to be culled in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease.

The crisis cost the farming industry 1bn, much of which was recovered by farmers in compensation. But the lawyers say the tourist industry lost an estimated 4bn, none of which was ever recovered by the sector, the paper says.

They also say the government's actions involved a large-scale breaking of existing laws on animal health.

Sheep awaiting slaughter
The paper said Maff ignored legislation on animal welfare

The report castigates the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) as having completely lost its grip early on in the crisis.

It says that computer operators, sitting at their desks in London, passed the death sentence on millions of animals due to mistaken procedures and the use of a management information system not used for culls but primarily for calculating subsidies.

As a result, when an outbreak was reported on a farm, they calculated a 3 km killing zone around that farm, sometimes of up to 3km, in which all farm animals were slaughtered.

The report said: "It took no account whatever of the possible variable conditions of spread according to such factors as geography. It made no allowance for natural barriers which might restrict spread."

Indeed, so poor was the data held at Maff that the grid reference given for a number of farms placed them firmly in the North Sea.

Pyre burning during foot-and-mouth crisis
Ten million animals were culled as a result of the outbreak

As a result the 3 km radius - corresponding to a protection zone, an isolation zone as contained in a European Community Directive - became a killing zone in certain areas when interpreted by Maff.

Professors Campbell and Lee state bluntly: "In sum, stamping out the disease was abandoned in all but name. Mass, almost indiscriminate killing took place."

Of the 10 millions of animals killed, it is estimated that perhaps 90% were not infected.

The report gives a stark picture of a Maff which ignored legislation on the welfare of animals and committed, or organised others to commit illegal acts of animal cruelty.

The report refers to "scores of reports of animals terrified prior to slaughter, being mainly maimed instead of killed outright, being buried and/or incinerated alive".

'Panic response'

This conduct was described before a European Union Temporary Committee on Foot and Mouth as "barbaric conduct [which] was a disgrace to humanity."

The report adds: "There has been no concerted Defra or police investigation of this and, although the RSPCA investigated over 90 complaints, there has not, we believe, been a single prosecution."

The mass cull all was a result of the "panic response" by Maff which ended in them losing control over running the government's operation to the Cabinet Office.

There, the running of the foot-and-mouth crisis policy was taken over by the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR), a body set up to handle civil emergencies.

After the crisis Maff was disbanded, much of its powers taken away, and Defra - the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - put in its place.

The paper refers to too much theory, "blackboard economics," showing little real understanding of the conditions prevailing in modern livestock rearing.

And it issues a warning that there has been little real planning done to prepare for another outbreak.; another disaster waiting to happen.

Foot-and-mouth goes virtual
18 Jun 03  |  Science/Nature
Foot and mouth: lessons to be learned
22 Jul 02  |  Breakfast
UK bids to woo back tourists
23 Jan 02  |  Business
Timeline: Foot-and-mouth cases
26 Sep 01  |  UK News
UK accused over foot-and-mouth
21 Nov 02  |  Politics

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