Muckspreader 1 August 02

Private Eye
The giveaway to the last of the three reports commissioned by the Beloved Leader to 'draw a line' under the foot-and-mouth disaster is its cover. The front of the report by Dr Iain Anderson's 'lessons learned' inquiry shows a solitary sheep standing on a moor in golden sunlight against a thunderous sky. Inside are more pretty full-page photographs, showing woolly lambs, sheep, cows and pigs, all in the pink of health. Only in the margin do one or two tiny pictures show dead animals, to remind us that the purpose of this report is to enquire why millions of healthy animals ended up either spiralling into the sky in clouds of stinking smoke or being bulldozed into holes in the ground.

All this is a perfect metaphor for the document itself. What Anderson had been asked to look into was one of the greatest acts of government maladministration on record. Thanks to the lack of any proper contingency planning, the government's response to an epidemic of which it had been warned two years earlier that there was an "extraordinarily high risk" was a complete shambles. Because they had made no preparation for the vaccination programme which in almost any other country in the world would have been used to halt the epidemic in its tracks, they fell back on what they saw as the only alternative available by killing millions of animals, the vast majority of which it turned out were healthy and unlikely to get the disease anyway. In doing so they broke just about every animal health, welfare and environmental law in the book.

Yet in 200 pages of bland waffle, complete with those pretty pictures, the Anderson report performs the miracle of airbrushing almost all this out of history. For its skill in washing whiter it should really have been called the 'Persil report'. And what is particularly clever is how it actually refers to some of the nastier stains, as if to show how fearless it is being, then just tiptoes away again, as if nothing too serious had happened.

A glaring example is the way Anderson deals with the awkward fact that what it calls the 'pre-emptive cull", under which millions of healthy animals were destroyed, was illegal. The most revealing admission in the report is tucked away on p.93 where Anderson quotes the government's chief vet Jim Scudamore as having argued at the time that the government 'probably' had no legal powers to carry out this cull. In other words, the government knew it was illegal. But instead of looking into the horrific implications of this, Anderson simply floats on, only returning to the point in his recommendations, one of which is that the government must ensure that in future it has the legal powers to carry out such a cull. He thus tacitly manages to admit Scudamore was right, but only in a way which lets the government completely off the hook.

By similar trickery Anderson downplays every significant lesson he should have drawn from this catastrophe, not least the total fiasco of the contingency planning under which, by EU law, the government should immediately have been ready to carry out the vaccination by which 90 percent of the disaster could have been avoided. Of all the pictures in his report perhaps the most apt is one showing a huge close-up of a climber's boot. If this is meant to symbolise the enormous boot slammed down on the face of Britain's countryside in 2001, Anderson's report is the shine on its toecap.