Lawless cull claim denied
Aug 29 2003
Steve Dube, The Western Mail
THE man in charge of Welsh agriculture said claims that the Government panicked during the foot-and-mouth outbreak and wrongly slaughtered millions of animals are "utter rubbish."
Welsh countryside minister Carwyn Jones hit back after a report by two academics described the government's response to the 2001 outbreak as "blatant incompetence."
Compiled by Cardiff University law professors David Campbell and Bob Lee, the report, to be published soon, warns of a potential new epidemic because of the Government's failure to learn its lesson.
They conclude 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."
They describe the mass slaughter of more than 10 million farm animals as "despicably cruel."
The academics also accuse the Government of "carnage by computer" and "postcode slaughter" in picking out the farms to be culled.
They claim the now defunct Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) completely lost its grip early on in the crisis and ignored animal welfare laws.
Professors Campbell and Lee say bluntly, "In sum, stamping out the disease was abandoned in all but name. Mass, almost indiscriminate, killing took place."
Of the 10 million animals killed, it is estimated perhaps 90% were not infected. The professors say there were "scores of reports of animals terrified prior to slaughter, mainly maimed instead of killed outright, being buried and/or incinerated alive."
But Mr Jones said, "Where this evidence comes from is beyond me. We did what we did in the interests of most farmers."
Mr Jones said the report appeared rather strongly worded for an academic document and he questioned how much the team had investigated the epidemic.
"It is intemperate in its language and I don't think it has any value for any future control of the disease," he said.
"Contingency planning has continued on foot-and-mouth and we have gone through numerous inquiries.
"But this was one of the most virulent forms of foot-and-mouth ever seen in Europe and we got over it in six months, compared with 13 months in 1967."
Mr Jones said vaccination had not been a realistic option. "In those days the rule was that if you vaccinate you don't export because no test could tell the difference between a vaccinated animal and one which had the disease. If we had vaccinated we would not be exporting now and that was not a risk that anyone should take with Welsh farming."
Mr Jones said he once worked as a lawyer with report author Bob Lee. "I do tend to listen to what farmers and vets have to say rather than someone from my former profession," he said.
National Farmers' Union Cymru president Peredur Hughes also dismissed the report. He said, "They had no option but to slaughter because there was no validated vaccine and we could have been stuck with it still if they had not slaughtered."
But he said the Government had not taken adequate steps to prevent the disease returning to Britain. "There's a lot more that the Government can do to make sure it does not come back again," he said. "Agriculture is so important to the whole economy that it's vital that we don't get it again."
Farmers Union of Wales policy director Arwyn Owen said it was true that many animals slaughtered then did not have the disease. "But because steps were not taken early on in the epidemic to stop it and because the disease had spread to various parts of the country, everybody was desperate to control it. There was an over-reaction and a lot of animals were killed that should not have been," he said.
Conservative AM Glyn Davies welcomed the report, saying, "At long last we have a minor glimpse into the sheer scale of the 2001 FMD scandal, the worst example of state-sponsored slaughter and waste of money Britain has ever seen."
Peter Stevenson of Compassion in World Farming said, "The report by the two Cardiff University professors is the strongest legal condemnation yet of the way the Government handled the foot-and-mouth crisis. I think this should prompt ministers to acknowledge they were wrong and it was illegal to go ahead with their policy of a contiguous cull which brought untold suffering to millions of animals and thousands of people."