From The WMN Monday 15th April 2002.

Andrea Kuhn

CLAIMS that British retailers were responsible for discouraging the Government from vaccinating livestock during last year's foot and mouth crisis have been disputed.

In March former Agriculture Minister Nick Brown told a European Parliamentary Committe that the Government had decided not to vaccinate amid fears from retailers it would affect customer confidence.

"The food industry was not prepared to put vaccinated produce into the food chain," he said.

However William Moyes director-general of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has revealed that he told the Prime Minister that he and other members who were consulted at the time were happy to let the Government decide.

Addressing the committee in Strasbourg, set up to examine the outbreak in Britain and it implications for Europe, he said his members would have had no objection to vaccination, as long as certain conditions were met.

"It is important to realise that at no time did retailers lobby for or against the vaccination of animals as an alternative to slaughter," Mr. Moyes told members of the committe.

The BRC made it clear that the decision on whether to vaccinate or not was entirely a matter for the Government and so long as public confidence was maintained, retailers would stock as part of their normal offering milk and dairy products from pooled supplies."

He provided the committee with a letter he had written to the Prime Minister and copied to Mr. Brown dated April 13 last year in which he stated this, as he said he was aware that vaccinations was being considered in Cumbria and Devon.

He believed vaccination would be permissible as long as there was a catorgoric assurance from the Government that foot and mouth could not be passed on through milk or meat from animals that had been vaccinated.

He said that a two tier system would be unacceptable.

In March Mr. Brown told the European committee: "We were only 24 hours away from vaccinating. However representations made to me from large retailers and in particular Cadburys stating they would not take products from vaccinates persuaded us not to vaccinate.

Mr. Moyes was part of a delegation brought to address the committe by South West Conservative MEP Neil Parish, who has urged members of the Westcountry business and farming community to contact him if they have ionformation the European Committee should consider.

He said the committee had already seen evidence of the Governments's reluctance to accept responsibility for the handling of the crisis.

He referred to comments from the Parliamentary Under Secretary to DEFRA , Elliot Morley, who revealed that the Government would consider seeking emergency powers if it could not push the Animal Health Bill through Parliament, which would allow civil servants to force entry to slaughter animals.

"It is just sheer arrogance and shows they have learned nothing from the last outbreak," Mr. Parish said.