Inquiry chief stands by FMD conclusions

Apr 27 2002 The Journal

The leader of the Northumberland foot-and-mouth public inquiry last night vowed to stand by his report after the Government rejected its findings.

Earlier this week Food Minister Elliot Morley disputed central claims made in the report in a Commons debate secured by Berwick MP Alan Beith.

He said the Northumberland inquiry had failed to produce evidence of excessive slaughter and rejected its call for more on-farm burial sites to be used in future outbreaks.

But the chairman of the Northumberland inquiry, Professor Michael Dower, last night said he stood by his conclusions, especially in the absence of counteracting evidence from Defra, which refused to attend the inquiry.

He said: "Saying that the 3km cull just applied to Cumbria and not Northumberland does not wash. The evidence we received at our inquiry points towards such a cull.

"We were shown by Trading Standards Officers the maps with the 3km circles marked on around infected premises ... And we heard from a significant number of farmers that were not right next to an infected farm whose animals were culled."

Prof Dower said that the evidence the inquiry received gave the impression of unnecessary slaughter and he highlighted the case where 16,000 animals had been slaughtered as a result of a rushed diagnosis even though the marks on the animal's mouths could easily have been caused by lime.

Turning his attention to on-farm burials, Prof Dower said this had been the preferred method of disposal during the 1967 outbreak.

He said that when pressed, the Environment Agency told the inquiry the agriculture ministry Maff (Defra's predecessor) had asked it to make a decision about on-farm burial for each individual case but had only given the agency three hours to make a decision and had not allowed anyone to visit the site.

Therefore in most cases the animals were either burnt, which created the horrific images that were so damaging to the tourist industry, or taken to the mass burial site at Widdrington, often in leaking lorries, which created problems for the people living in that area.

However, Prof Dower praised the fact that the Government had welcomed the recovery plan and would play a part in implementing it and that it had recognised the need for a proper contingency plan.

Call for money to fund vision of future farming

The Northumberland farmer appointed to reshape the countryside after foot-and-mouth yesterday called on the Government to fund his vision.

Sir Donald Curry was appointed by the Government to head the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food, which published its report in January. Yesterday he said he hoped the Government would be prepared to fund his proposals for shifting the agricultural sector away from intensive food production towards more environmentally friendly projects.

He has estimated that it will cost about £500m to implement his proposals, but so far the Government has yet to agree to his plans and has instead arranged for further discussions on the subject.

"To be fair we didn't expect major statements in the Budget," said Mr Curry, who farms in Tynedale. "The main funding was never going to be made available through the Budget. We have to wait for the (comprehensive) spending review, which I hope will be announced in July.

"We will then have an indication as to whether the funds will be made available from next year onwards for the following three years, to begin this process of shifting support from direct food subsidies to sustainable environmental schemes."

Asked about a new round of discussions with key stakeholders in the industry announced by Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett, Sir Donald said: "We don't need another period of consultation.

"We consulted wide and far ... We have made that view very clear to Government. However, they have described these regional meetings which they plan to hold next month as an engagement process to help engage the industry in delivering the report.

"If that moves it forward, then fine. But if it is simply another talking shop then it will be a waste of time." Durham NFU chairman Brian Hodgson said: "I don't think the Treasury will make the cash available."