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Western Morning News November 1 2005


11:00 - 01 November 2005

A Westcountry MP last night called for a fresh inquiry into the origins of the 2001 foot and mouth disaster after the Government appeared to confirm that its inspectors had ignored a dangerous breach of animal health rules on the farm where the outbreak began.

In written evidence to the Commons public accounts committee the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it had been aware that Bobby Waugh had brought unprocessed catering waste on to his Northumberland pig farm just weeks before the disaster began, in clear breach of the regulations at the time.

The outbreak is believed to have been started by infected meat in untreated swill fed to pigs on Mr Waugh's farm. He was later convicted of a series of animal health offences and the Government has always denied any culpability.

The new evidence will reopen concerns about the role of government inspectors who renewed the farmer's licence to feed swill just weeks before the outbreak began in February 2001, despite signs that his farm was breaching regulations. The department's evidence claims that inspectors did not allow Mr Waugh to "store" unprocessed swill on his farm, but concedes that "some unprocessed catering waste was held temporarily".

The Animal Byproducts Order 1999, which governed swill feeding at the time, appears to suggest that even this was illegal. The order states: "No person shall bring unprocessed catering waste on to any premises where pigs are kept."

Andrew George, the MP for St Ives and former Lib-Dem rural affairs spokesman, said Defra's admission was further evidence for the need for a proper inquiry. "The fact that information is still having to be dragged out of the department bit by bit makes it appear that they have been trying very hard to cover up some level of incompetence on their part.

"The moment has passed for a full public inquiry into foot and mouth, but I do believe it would be worth having an independent review of what happened in terms of Defra's responsibility. If they have nothing to hide then I can't see what objection they can have to an independent review."

The government vet Jim Dring, who renewed Bobby Waugh's licence in January 2001, admitted that he had been aware of the breach. In a report on the incident Mr Dring said he had twice warned Mr Waugh about the practice of keeping unprocessed swill on his premises. Mr Dring said that the 2001 disaster "would never have come about" if his inspection had been "more rigorous".

But his report was suppressed by the Government and never reached the "Lessons Learned" inquiry into the disaster to which Mr Dring had addressed it.

At a Commons hearing in February this year Defra attempted to claim that the area where the unprocessed swill was kept was not part of Mr Waugh's farm. But Angela Browning, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, produced a map of the farm which clearly showed that the area was on a part of the farm's premises just yards from where Mr Waugh kept his pigs.

Last night Mrs Browning said it was not good enough to claim that the unprocessed material was only held temporarily - even if it were true. "Even that is against the regulations," she said. She urged Parliamentary Ombudsman Ann Abraham to take the evidence into account in her ongoing inquiry into the Government's decision to ban swill feeding.

Yesterday's public accounts committee report called on the Government to ensure that all animal health regulations were enforced.

"Inspectors having and applying a comprehensive and clear understanding of all relevant legislation and regulations is essential," the report said.