DISEASE BROUGHT 'COMPLETE CHAOS'

Western Morning News
ANDREA KUHN
09:00 - 12 April 2002
A vet who worked during two outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in 1967 and in 2001 has told members of a European Parliamentary committee the administration during last year's crisis was "complete chaos". "It was brutal, wasteful and bloody - the nearest thing Britain has seen to what Europe saw in the Second World War," said Alan Richardson.
He was addressing the committee in Strasbourg earlier this week which was set up to look at the outbreak in Britain and consider the implications of the disease for Europe. Mr Richardson was part of a delegation organised by South West Conservative MEP Neil Parish who will all give evidence of the British experience to the committee.

Earlier Guy Thomas Everard, the Exmoor farmer who successfully fought a cull of his cattle, which officials claimed had been infected by a casual farm worker, also addressed the committee. He told them of the anguish his family had endured on learning of the intentions to slaughter their pedigree herd through a press conference given to the media.

Mr Richardson was invited to give evidence because he was able to compare his experiences of both outbreaks of the disease and the way it was handled by Government officials. Last year he said he had visited one of the regional offices of the then-Ministry of Agriculutre, Fisheries and Food and had been appalled to witness the overflowing in-trays of paperwork and clerks going home at 5pm. "Everything was simply going too slowly," he added.

Mr Richardson also criticised the Government's reliance on scientists to try to assess the best way to handle the disease: "If your car is broken you do not take it to a physicist."

The way in which computer-modelling had been used, based on the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in humans, had been completely inappropriate, he said. He maintained that the outbreak should have been run like a military operation instead of which it was handled by administrators who lacked the experience and knowledge.

During 1967 he said they had stayed in the background and allowed the vets to deal with farmers, which would have averted much of the emotional trauma at the hands of MAFF officials who had come to slaughter their stock.

He also had strong criticism for the depletion of the State Veterinary Service, which he claimed had dwindled to less than half its size.

"If you abolish the officer corps and tell the army to go to war and expect your clerks to direct the soldiers on the ground you will get beaten. Any system of control in the future will fail unless it has a core of veterinary officers who are trained in carrying out the work," he added.

Mr Everard Thomas told the committee he and members of his family had been bullied and intimidated by MAFF officials who believed his stock had been infected by a peripatetic farm worker. He said he could not understand their refusal to have the stock blood-tested, which would have proved they had not been infected. "Sadly many (farmers) were intimidated into allowing their livestock to be slaughtered," he added.

He said that, had he allowed his animals to be culled, it would have cost the British Government an unnecessary 3.4 million euros.