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Court Of Auditors Reports Back On FMD Outbreak

Saturday 20th November 2004

The European Court of Auditors this week published a special report on the EU Commission's management and supervision of the measures to control Foot-and-Mouth Disease and of the related expenditure.

Following the Foot-and-Mouth crisis of 2001, Member States requested reimbursement of EUR1,616 million (1,131 million) from the Community for expenditure on compensation to farmers.

That cost, combined with the scale of the epidemic, was the motivation for the Court's audit.

The Court's main observations concern the Commission's actions before, during and after the crisis. It made the following points:

* Before the 2001 crisis, the Commission did not subject the arrangements for prevention and control of the disease to adequate evaluation that took account of the changes in the risk factors.

* As the Commission did not carry out comprehensive evaluations and inspections in time, a number of weaknesses in the prevention and control arrangements concerning protective measures at borders, animal feed, animal movements and notification of the disease were not corrected before the outbreak of the epidemic.

* During the crisis, the Commission rapidly took the necessary emergency measures, such as notification of the disease to the Member States, surveillance and slaughter of sheep which had been imported from the United Kingdom before the crisis began, and the closure of markets; the shortcomings in the system and in its application in the Member States in respect of the number of vets, notification of the disease and the speed at which culling was carried out were identified by the Commission during the crisis but it was too late to remedy them.

* The way in which the Community financing system was applied during the crisis led to inconsistencies: the reimbursement rates for the various animal diseases have been aligned only for the pig sector; there were delays in reimbursements to Member States; during the crisis, in the absence of a more clearly defined Community framework, the Member States were able to introduce a variety of systems to compensate farmers, based on varying methods of assessing the value of the animals before slaughter.

* After the crisis, many shortcomings were remedied; nevertheless, the financial framework has not been revised and a number of Community measures are still inadequate with regard to the supervision of farms, notification of disease and speed in culling; these could compromise the effectiveness of the prevention and control arrangements in containing a future epidemic, while the Community would be obliged to reimburse the expenditure incurred as a result of their being applied.

As a result of its audit, the Court recommended that the Commission:

* Carry out regular evaluation of the prevention and control arrangements outside crisis periods and increase supervision of their implementation.

* Study ways of including farmers in the disease control system with a view to involving them more closely in rapid notification of disease and compliance with movement restrictions.

* Clarify the financial framework applicable to epidemics of animal disease, while reducing as far as possible the financial risk to the Community budget.

Meanwhile, the Royal Agricultural Society of England is busy sorting and cataloguing a collection of information relating to the 2001 Foot-and-Mouth Disease outbreak - believed to be the largest of its kind in the country.

The archive, which was donated to the society this month by the Rev Patricia Pinkerton, is being described by the society's archivist, Phillip Sheppy, as "the most significant addition that the society has made to its library and archive for a number of years".

Mr Sheppy said: "It is highly unlikely that you would repeat this collection anywhere else. It represents a major undertaking and is one of the most important things the society has been given for many years.

"The Rev Pinkerton's collection will be indexed and kept at the society's library as a separate archive. Our collection is open to the public and it will be kept here for all to use for study and reference in future."

The Rev Patricia Pinkerton is a member of the rural clergy in the Forest of Dean where she was initially involved in the counselling of those unfortunate enough to be affected by FMD.

She was soon to become a major player in the attempts to stem the tide of the effects of the disaster as it started to spread across the country.

The archive contains many hundreds of entries collected from all sources within the media and includes reports produced by various bodies after the event. Its contents come from all sides of the political, religious and moral divide and will provide what may well turn out, in years to come, to be the most complete record of what took place.

Patricia Pinkerton said: "This is a gift to the nation's farmers. After watching the cull of animals on a friend's farm, on Good Friday in 2001, I became determined that this record should be put in place. Most of my free time during the past three years has been spent collecting it and the work still continues. In years to come anyone - whether a skilled researcher or an interested member of the public - can come to the library and read about what happened. The events of the past might help guide us in the future."

Mike Calvert, chief executive of the RASE said: "We are both honoured and pleased to have been chosen as custodian of this important collection. The industry should be very grateful to the Rev Pinkerton for the work that she has undertaken putting together this record of the events of 2001."