09:00 - 27 May 2003
 While ministers were telling us that foot and mouth was under control,
Mark Daniel saw what was really happening

For those fortunate enough to have been on the Mir space station, say,
or in London at the time of the foot and mouth epidemic, rural
resentment of Defra will seem surprising. They will have been under the
impression, because they were constantly assured of it, that the
Government had the disease "under control".

This phrase, bleated repeatedly by Minister for Fisheries and Food Nick
Brown, sounded to us who had the stench of bloated bodies and the smoke
from the pyres in our nostrils, the weeping of farmers and their
families in an otherwise eerie stillness in our ears, like Canute
telling his courtiers that he was absolutely on top of things - only
this Canute stayed firmly on shore while we obediently foundered and

And, miraculously, they did have it all under control. Thanks to an
unknown chemist's reading of "Teach Yourself Epidemiology", there was a
model, founded on wholesale slaughter of healthy stock, which would
enable foot and mouth to disappear entirely, just in time for a General
Election. To disappear, that is, from the craven national media, but not
from our fields and farmyards.

Occasionally, a minister honoured us with a visit. Brown popped in once
or twice to do his "under control" routine. Baroness Hayman, presumably
appointed because her name sounded suitably rustic, turned up for
Question Time in Exeter, spouted gibberish and, sensing a certain
animosity, scuttled back to Westminster like a rabbit down its hole.
Tony Blair even condescended to visit, on the understanding that he
would meet only approved persons who would not say anything nasty.
Unfortunately, one or two members of the public managed to be heard.
Blair jumped back into his helicopter looking stunned by the unwonted
experience, and very, very hurt.

Some of the casualties of MAFF ineptitude were obvious - the farming
families who were subjected to bullying, brutality, bureaucracy and
force majeure and saw their lives' work rotting outside their windows,
then going up in smoke. Millions of others were unseen, unsung and
uncompensated - the farmers isolated and starved of accurate
information, unable to trade or to move stock for month after month; the
animals thus stranded in mires without fodder; the children subjected to
ineradicable trauma; the many, many small, struggling,
agriculture-related industries.

And when it was all over? It wasn't all over. It continues to this day.
Hobbled businesses stagger into bankruptcy. Farms deprived of income for
all that time are sold, having never recovered. One of the "lucky"
victims, Bruce Ayre, who had 2,500 sheep and 250 cattle killed, said
yesterday: "We're just getting back to normal now, and 'normal' will
never mean the same again after we turned to our ministry for help and
were rewarded with inefficiency, appalling and ignorant ministry vets,
inept, bungling soldiery and slow, draconian, insensitive bureaucracy."