Cumberland News 19 April 2002

MEP INQUIRY TEAM MEET THE PEOPLE

A HIGH-POWERED delegation of visiting MEPs has been told that Maff was to blame for the outbreak of foot and mouth in Cumbria. Longtown mart chairman Tucker Armstrong said that if all livestock movements had been halted earlier, infected sheep from Northumberland would not have passed through the mart in February last year.

The MEPs visited the mart, widely regarded as being at the centre of the outbreak, yesterday as part of a four-day visit to the North West.

The 40-strong squad from the European Parliament's agriculture committee were in Longtown to hear first-hand experiences from the county's farming community. They were told by Mr Armstrong that the Cumbria & Dumfriesshire Farmers' Mart was the biggest sheep mart in Europe before the disease struck. "It will be two or three years before we can get back to anything like we were before foot and mouth hit," he said.

Mr Armstrong described how it took Government officials seven weeks to visit the farms run by staff from Longtown mart. "This was typical of the way the job was done. If all livestock movements had been stopped as soon as foot and mouth was discovered, rather than stopping exports, the two February sales we held would not have gone ahead," he said. "We have been victimised and held up as a scapegoat and it is essential everyone recognises this." He told the inquiry team he had lost 650 cattle and 3,500 sheep and had witnessed his animals burning on a pyre near his home for 10 weeks.

The only parliamentary inquiry team looking into last year's outbreak of foot and mouth came under fire for holding no public meetings in the county during their visit.

But MEP Neil Parish, representing Devon and Somerset, said witnesses were travelling from Cumbria to give evidence at the only public meeting at Gretna, held yesterday.

Cumbrian Euro MP Lord Inglewood said a visit to the county was not on the cards in the early stages of putting together an itinerary. "Why this was we do not know, but we managed to change their minds."

His fellow North West EuroMP Chris Davies said the inquiry team wanted to learn lessons from Cumbria which would shape future policy for the whole of Europe.

Inquiry team chairman Mrs Encarnacion Redondo-Jimenez said it was vital they knew what had really happened in Cumbria. "We are available to listen to what people have to say," she said